Why Did Delta Air Lines Take On The Airbus A350?

Currently, Delta Air Lines holds 15 Airbus A350 aircraft within its fleet. The Atlanta-based carrier took its first delivery of the jet in the summer of 2017. However, why did the company take on the type in the first place? Let’s take a look at how the relationship between the airline and the plane started.

Delta A350 Jet
Delta Air Lines is proud of its Airbus A350 aircraft, but why did the carrier originally order the plane? Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com

Time for a switch

Delta’s order for the A350 formed part of a significant order of 50 Airbus widebodies in November 2014. The aircraft in this deal were split between A350-900 and A330-900 jets. This move marked a landmark moment for Delta as it previously had primarily been a Boeing-focused airline when it came to the two manufacturers.  However, the carrier was now heading in a new direction and the A350 was part of this movement.

At the time of the order, John Leahy, former Airbus COO – Customers, spoke about its widebody options. Ultimately, the airline was keen to modernize its fleet.

“When the most successful U.S. airline today – a company that has flown passengers around the world for more than 80 years, has 80-thousand employees and 165 million customers in a year – says ‘yes we want 50 more of your widebody planes’, you can’t debate the fact that it is a massive endorsement of your product line,” Leahy said in a press release seen by Simple Flying.

“Airbus is unique in offering an optimized long-range choice in aircraft that will allow Delta to continue to modernize its fleet and customize its use with the most efficient and comfortable aircraft available.”

Delta A350 Aircraft
Delta’s first A350-900 arrival was N501DN (test registration F-WZGP), which arrived from Toulouse three and a half years ago. Photo: Airbus

Modern solutions

Delta highlighted the economic efficiency of the A350. It sought to use it to replace its aging Boeing 747-400 aircraft, which the carrier retired at the end of the same year that it took on the A350.

Subsequently, in July 2017, the company became the first North American operator of the type. With the arrival of fleet number 3501, the firm emphasized its goal to transform the travel experience and deliver innovative products and services for its passengers as reasons for the acquisition.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian summarized the arrival of the widebody. He explained how the jet fits in well with the airline’s services.

“The Airbus A350 sets a new standard of flying experience for our customers, representing years of product innovation as Delta continues to transform into a leading global carrier,” Bastian said in a statement seen by Simple Flying.

“Our new flagship A350 fits well in Delta’s long-haul network, combining an exceptional customer experience with strong operating economics and fuel-efficiency as we retire older, less-efficient aircraft.”

Customers would be able to choose 32 seats in the Delta One cabin, 48 in Delta Premium Select, and 226 in the Main Cabin. Moreover, there was a focus on the high-speed 2Ku Wi-Fi internet access on the plane that allows for gate-to-gate connectivity. The strong connection would make it easier for travelers to stream videos and work in the air. Naturally, there were also significant upgrades when it came to other aspects such as IFE and lighting.

Delta A350 Interior
There is plenty of space on board the aircraft no matter which cabin a passenger is in. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Advancements across the board

It wouldn’t be only passengers that would benefit from this overhaul. The A350 would continue the operator’s optimization of its Pacific network. The airline was keen to place it primarily on long-range routes between the United States and Asia. It highlighted its lightweight airframe and fuel-efficient Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines as key factors for improved operations.

The jets were expected to offer a 20% improvement in operating cost per seat compared to the 747-400 aircraft. Delta was also excited about the aircraft’s winglets that improve fuel efficiency by reducing drag. So, there were significant savings to be made overall.

Delta A350 Jet
The Airbus A350-900 has a range of over 8,000 NM (14,816 km). Photo: Delta Air Lines

Altogether, there were several notable breakthroughs with the arrival of the A350. According to the Delta Flight Museum, it was the first plane in the carrier’s holdings to feature the Delta One Suite, the world’s first all-suite business class. Each of the 32 seats had closing doors. Moreover, it was the first Delta aircraft to provide Premium Select, the operator’s first true premium-economy offering in a separate cabin.

There were advancements when it came to the build of the jet. Its fuselage was built with carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP), which supports lower fuel burn. There is also increased resistance to corrosion and easier maintenance with this feature. The plane also came with larger windows and optimized cabin pressure, temperature, and humidity, which Delta expressed would help its fliers feel more refreshed after heading across the ocean.

Delta A350
The Airbus A350 will feature even more prominently for Delta as airlines continue to restructure their fleets to be more efficient in the new climate. Photo: Getty Images

Still early days

On October 30th, 2017, the first Delta A350 entered into service on a flight from Detroit to Tokyo-Narita. The plane was initially based in Michigan and flew across the Pacific to other Asian destinations such as Seoul-Incheon and Shanghai. It would also be seen on flights to Amsterdam from Spring 2018. The jet would also depart from Atlanta to Seoul-Incheon during this period.

All of the A350s are currently in the air despite the harsh market conditions and the type has only been with Delta for less than four years. Additionally, for nearly a year, operations have been during the global health crisis. So, there is still plenty of potential for the widebody with Delta. After the industry sees more consistent recovery following the pandemic, it’ll play an important role in the next generation in the aviation industry.

What are your thoughts about Delta Air Lines’ Airbus A350 aircraft? Have you flown on any of these planes since the model’s introduction? Let us know what you think of the type in the comment section.