Delta Air Lines’ aging fleet of MD-88s are well overdue for retirement. With an average age of more than 28 years and regular reliability issues, Delta is no doubt keen to see the back of this old faithful short haul plane. But what will its replacement be?
Following on from that terrifying video of an MD-88 suffering engine failure mid-flight, many of our readers have been asking why Delta are even flying these planes any more? Their fleet of MD-88s is certainly dwindling, but the carrier still operates over 70 of the aircraft, many of which are more than 30 years old.
Previously Delta said they were working to accelerate the retirement of their MD-88s, along with their MD-90 aircraft. As many as 40 are earmarked for retirement this year. But what will Delta replace the MD-88 with? Let’s have a look.
Delta has a long history with the MD-88
They currently have 74 MD-88s in operation. In the past, they also had MD-82s, 83s and one MD-87, but all of these have been retired now. In total, more than 90 MD-80 series aircraft have been removed from the fleet, including 46 MD-88s.
The MD aircraft in Delta Air Lines’ fleet are, across the board, old. The average age of the MD-88s is 28.6 years, according to PlaneSpotters. In fact, the oldest aircraft in the entire Delta Air Lines fleet is an MD-88, registered N904DL, which the carrier took delivery of in March 1987. The youngest MD-88 is N920DE, which has been with Delta since December 1993, a mere 25 and a half years old.
Delta has a reputation for buying older generation or used aircraft and flying them for far longer than most other operators would. As such, their entire fleet is relatively old, at an average age of 15.6 years.
Despite being an older-than-average fleet, Delta’s MD-88s are seriously in need of retirement. Mainly based out of Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, the MD-88s have been the workhorse of Delta’s short-haul flights, so what will replace them?
Delta placed their order for the Airbus A220-100 even before it was an Airbus plane. In April 2016, when it was still the Bombardier CS100, they ordered 75 of the aircraft, a decision which didn’t go down too well with Boeing. The US planemaker accused Bombardier of dumping the aircraft at almost $20m below list price. The US Department of Commerce put in place a 292% levy on all CSeries imported, but in January 2018, that was thrown out, paving the way for Delta’s new fleet.
Airbus took control of the CSeries program in a deal that closed last July. So, now Delta is in the process of receiving the A220-100s, taking delivery of the first in October 2018. Delta further added to this order in January this year, swapping out 50 of their total orders for the larger variant, the A220-300.
So, how does the A220 match up against the MD-88 as a replacement for Delta? Let’s take a look.
|Passenger capacity||149 (3 class)||109||141-160|
|Seat width||16.8 – 19.6 inches||18.6 – 20.5 inches||18.5 – 20 inches|
|Seat pitch||31 – 37 inches||30 – 37 inches||28 – 38 inches|
|Range||2,205 km||5,460 km||6,200 km|
|Speed||801 km/h||829 km/h||829 km/h typical|
As you can see, the existing A220-100s in their three class Delta layout constitute a major drop in capacity, to the tune of 40 passengers. However, with this Delta are getting a more reliable, more efficient aircraft that is capable of traveling much further. As such, the A220-100 is not the ideal replacement for the MD-88 but would allow Delta to add frequency to compensate for capacity losses.
As their first A220-300 is not being delivered until next year, we can only guess at the specifications. However, in a typical three-class layout, the 141 seats go some way towards the 149 offered on the MD-88, again with a massive increase in range and efficiency.
We expect this was, in many ways, a driver for Delta switching such a large part of their order to the bigger variant of the A220, of which they now have 50 on order. In contrast, their total fleet of A220-100s, when all delivered, will number just 45.
The A320 family
Delta also has a large order in place for a number of the A320 family aircraft. These include 43 of the A321-200 to add to their current fleet of 84, as well as 100 A321neos which will begin delivering in 2020.
Let’s see how these shape up against the MD-88.
|Passenger capacity||149 (3 class)||189||206 – 240|
|Seat width||16.8 – 19.6 inches||18 – 21 inches||18 inches|
|Seat pitch||31 – 37 inches||30 – 37 inches||30 – 38 inches|
|Range||2,205 km||3,895 km||7,400 km|
|Speed||801 km/h||832 km/h||833 km/h typical|
Both models of the A321 have the opposite problem to the A220 aircraft, in that they seat far more passengers than the MD-88 does. While the range is markedly improved (particularly with the neo variant), replacing the MD-88 with the A321s adds significantly to the capacity on Delta’s transcontinental routes.
Neither the A220 nor the A321 / A321neo really fill the gap that the MD-88 is going to leave. However, as they have the opposite problems each (one too big and one too small), we expect Delta will do some intelligent network planning and make the fleet balance out overall. Routes which are popular will see the A321s replacing the MD-88s, while those long and thin connections will benefit from the A220 instead.
Either way, a phase-out of the MD-88 can’t come too quickly for Delta Air Lines, and with both their replacement aircraft the carrier will enjoy far better efficiency and reliability than their aging MD-88s are able to provide.
Simple Flying reached out to Delta for comment on this and will update once a response is received.