Why Did Delta Take On The Boeing 757?

The Boeing 757 is one of Delta Air Lines’ preferred jets. The Atlanta-based carrier has been putting its trust in the narrowbody for 36 years. Here is a look at why the operator took on the plane in the first place.

Delta Boeing 757
Delta has been a fan of the Boeing 757 for over three decades. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

A change in the market

When Delta entered the jet race in the late 1950s, company founder C.E. Woolman understood that there were going to be tough times in the years ahead. The airline had experimented with several different planes in the following decades as it got to grips with the new generation of aviation.

The Delta Flight Museum shares that Woolman told Aviation Week the following in January 1957:

“We are buying airplanes that haven’t yet been fully designed with millions of dollars we don’t have and are going to operate them off airports that are too small, in an air traffic control system that is too slow and we must fill them with more passengers than we have ever carried before.”

Moreover, Woolman expressed that he and Delta were up for the challenges that were going to come as part of the tight competition in the industry. The company had survived the Great Depression and World War II. Therefore, the businessman knew that the next struggle would pass.

Delta 757
Delta did not underestimate the impact that jet aircraft would have on the aviation industry. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

According to the Delta Flight Museum, Woolman added the following in September 1959:

“Each of the many forward steps in aviation which have occurred since your company first began passenger service 30 years ago has been accompanied by its own unique problems, and the forthcoming jet era will be no exception. Delta personnel, experience, and equipment enable us to face the future with confidence, and we look forward to continuing full participation in this new chapter in aviation history.”

Delta Air Lines 757
The latter decades of the 20th century was an exciting time for jet aircraft. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Finding its feet

Subsequently, since then, Delta experimented with several types of jet aircraft. The Douglas DC-8 and the Convair 880 were the first two to arrive at the carrier’s facilities.

These planes helped the company get its feet off the ground in the jet world, but the DC-9 soon joined them in 1965. This model was acquired to perform jet services for routes of 500 miles or less.

However, the stakes rose once again with the widebody craze that started with the Boeing 747’s passenger services introduction in 1970. Delta was the first operator with three different types in its holdings. It held the 747, the Douglas DC-10, and the Lockheed L-1011 simultaneously in 1973. Before taking on the 757, the firm also took on the Boeing 727, 737, and 767 jets.

Delta Boeing 757 Jet
Delta tried its hand at various jets before the 757 joined the fold. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

The airline turned to the 727 for its ability to land on smaller airport runways and fly short-medium range journeys. However, Boeing also designed the 757 to replace this narrowbody on these short and medium routes.

Delta first commenced operations with the 727 in 1972 after its merger with Northeast Airlines. In the following year, it also took on more units. With this type being the first Boeing narrowbody flown by the carrier, Delta became more familiar with the manufacturer’s jets and knew it could trust it for future upgrades.

Delta 727
Boeing’s 727 helped to pave the way for Delta’s relationship with the US-based plane producer when it came to narrowbody units. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Improved specifications

Over a decade later, Delta received its first 757 delivery. Ship 602 (registration N602DL) arrived in Georgia on November 5th, 1984, to mark the beginning of a long-term relationship between the airline and the type.

Delta highlights how this 757-200’s wings and engines came with modern technology to give the best fuel mileage of any standard-body plane in the few years before its arrival at the company. Moreover, on a 500-mile flight, the jet provided approximately 45% better fuel efficiency than the 727.

The aircraft could also fit 187 passengers onboard, which was more than the 148 that the 727 could service. It also needed fewer pilots than its predecessor with two in the cockpit rather than three.

Delta launched the two Pratt & Whitney PW2037 engines that came with the arrival of its first unit. These new additions were more efficient than the earlier JT10D Pratt & Whitney engines that were previously being offered on the jet.

Overall, Delta’s president and CEO at the time, Ron Allen, said that these overhauls were worth waiting for. The new wing design saw the fitting of double-slotted trailing edge flaps and full-span leading-edge slats. These factors allowed for takeoffs with a full cabin possible while needing less runway space. 

These modern revisions enabled the plane to cruise at higher altitudes than its predecessor. In turn, this provided more significant fuel savings and the use of higher airways. When it comes to performance, the 757 could hit speeds of 530 mph and had a range of 2,302 nmi. Meanwhile, the extended range could travel up to 3927 nmi.

Delta Boeing 757 Interior
There was more room to fit customers on the 757 than its predecessor. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Finding the best fit

Altogether, with the jet age still in its infancy, it took some years for Delta to stick to aircraft that it liked. Several jets came and went before the arrival of the 757. However, the carrier has shown its commitment to this narrowbody, with it still making up a significant portion of its fleet.

Delta 757
Delta still has 127 757 jets within its fleet. Photo: Getty Images

The first passenger service with a Delta 757 was on December 1st, 1984. This was an operation from Atlanta, Georgia, to Dayton, Ohio, via Birmingham, Alabama. We will soon be taking a dive into the journey of the Boeing 757 under Delta’s operations over the last few decades. Keep an eye out for this article in the coming weeks.

What are your thoughts about Delta Air Lines’ introduction of its Boeing 757 aircraft? Do you have any fond memories flying on the jet since it was first introduced? Let us know what you think of the plane in the comment section.