Why Delta Air Lines Took On The Boeing 767

At the turn of the 1980s, Delta Air Lines was looking to grow on intermediate and transcontinental routes. Therefore, it needed the right aircraft to help it expand. However, the situation was not so simple at the time, and the carrier’s employees helped it significantly to take on its first Boeing 767.

Delta 767
The Boeing 767 is a staple in Delta Air Lines’ fleet. Photo: Getty Images

A loyal customer

The Atlanta-based carrier has flown all Boeing 767 models, including the -200, -300, 300ER, and -400ER. Notably, it also operates the world’s largest fleet of the type.

The Delta Flight Museum highlights several pull factors of the initial 767-200 that Delta sought in the 1980s. The comfortable widebody interior came with quieter and 30% more fuel-efficient technology than the operator’s existing long-haul units. Moreover, the new advanced wing design offered a more efficient lift for a faster climb to cruising altitude. The new digital glass cockpit with 40 computers was also an exciting prospect.

However, one of the key features was that the flight deck held a similar design to the Boeing 757. Therefore, under FAA rules, pilots who operated the 767 could also fly the 757 without going through additional training. Subsequently, later that decade, Delta became the first carrier to fly both jets.

Delta Boeing 757 Getty
Like the Boeing 767, the Boeing 757 also remains as part of Delta’s fleet today. Photo: Getty Images

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A company effort

Nonetheless, the acquisition of the 767 wasn’t so smooth sailing. The United States was going through a troubled economy, and the aviation industry was dealing with the impact of deregulation and high fuel prices. Most significantly, for the first time in over three decades, Delta posted a loss.

Despite the challenging climate, Delta’s employees found a way to come together and support the airline. To show their appreciation, they raised $30 million through the combined donations of staff members, friends, and retirees. This campaign became known as Project 767.

So, on December 15th, 1982, over 7,000 employees, associates, and media members gathered together at Delta’s Technical Operations Center to present the carrier with its first Boeing 767. Ship 102 was given the moniker of The Spirit of Delta and soon took off for its first service, which was a flight to Tampa, Florida.

Delta 767 Spirit
The arrival of the Boeing 767 was a joyous occasion for all of those at Delta Air Lines. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Valued asset

This unit would fly high with the airline for over two decades. Notably, along the way, it was painted in unique livery to mark the 1996 Olympics in Delta’s home of Atlanta, Georgia. Moreover, it had another coating in 2004 to celebrate Delta’s 75th anniversary. The plane was eventually retired on February 12th, 2006.

Delta 767 Olympic
The Spirit of Delta with special Olympic livery. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

According to a press release seen by Simple Flying, amid the plane’s retirement, former Delta CEO Gerald Grinstein spoke about the unit’s impact over the years. He highlighted that the jet is more than just an aircraft as it represents the whole company.

“More than 20 years ago, Delta people defined our company’s culture — one that would include teamwork and dedication to seeing the company through difficult times in pursuit of making our airline the best in the world,” Grinstein said in the release.

“Though our industry has changed considerably since 1982, these same characteristics remain as Delta people work to build a strong, profitable, competitive company based on a vision of shared future success. While The Spirit of Delta will not fly again after this tour, I believe the spirit of Delta people can and will.”

Delta 767
The Spirit of Delta has undoubtedly left a legacy. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Further needs

Delta also took on the 767-300 and became the first airline in the US to do so when the plane was introduced in December 1986. The first flight with the stretched edition of the 767 was between Atlanta and Miami. This variant was 20% more fuel-efficient and carried 25% more cargo than its older sibling.

Altogether, the operator took it on for medium and long-haul routes that have high demand. Therefore, the plane was soon deployed to the likes of Florida and the Bahamas from New England, New York, and Montreal. It also enjoyed success on other domestic and international routes across the Americas throughout the years.

Delta had additional requirements towards the end of the 1980s. It was looking for suitable solutions for its transatlantic operations. Subsequently, in September 1988, the airline chose to take on the Boeing 767-300ER for its trips across the Atlantic Ocean.

Service with the extended range model began in 1990, marking the beginning of an international takeover with the variant. For instance, in 1996, the carrier began to retire its Lockheed L-1011 transatlantic aircraft to domestic operations, and the planes were replaced by the -300ER. A decade later, the model was handling most of the operator’s transatlantic and South American flights.

In 1997, Delta was also the launch customer for the 767-400. The airline took it on as part of its ongoing efforts to phase out its L-1011s. There were improved electrical and air-conditioning systems with the plane. Additionally, it had increased takeoff weight, along with raked wingtips, which increased efficiency.

The carrier received its first unit of the variant in August 2000. The model would go on to operate the L-1011’s high-capacity domestic routes before expanding across the skies.

Delta 767 Interior
Inside a Delta 767-300 in 2007. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

A changing industry

2006 was the beginning of a series of shakeups for Delta’s 767s. Flights with the -200 stopped that year, and in 2019, the last of the airline’s domestic -300 fleet retired in the summer of 2019. Moreover, this year, the airline shared that it has set out plans to retire all of its 767-300ERs by December 2025. Altogether, the carrier currently holds 75 767s within its fleet, according to Planespotters.net.

The type has undoubtedly been a fantastic servant for Delta over the decades. It continues to be an important workhorse even today, thanks to its reliability on routes across both the continent and overseas.

What are your thoughts about Delta’s Boeing 767 aircraft? What has been your favorite variant over the years? Let us know what you think of the type in the comment section.

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