Delta Air Lines: 1 Of 3 Passenger Boeing 717 Operators

Following the retirement of Volotea’s Boeing 717s earlier this year, Delta is one of only three remaining passenger users of the aircraft worldwide. We explore how the carrier uses the aircraft and reveal its significant focus on Atlanta and shorter-than-ever routes.

Delta 717
While Delta used to use the 717 to Las Vegas, this stopped in 2019. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr.

Delta’s Boeing 717s

Delta opportunistically acquired the Boeing 717 (IATA code: 717) from Southwest following its acquisition of AirTran. The 717 was superfluous to Southwest’s one-size-fits-all fleet approach, but they were important to Delta not least because contributed to 50-seat regional jets being removed. This helped Delta to reduce its fleet costs, increase revenue-generating opportunities, and to offer more premium seats. It also enabled better right-sizing capacity to demand.

Delta 717s
Delta first used the 717 in 2013, but the small number of seats (249,590) renders it invisible. The big decline in 50 seaters was only partly because of the 717. There was a step-change approach that saw 50-seat markets ungauged to 65-seat markets; 65-seat markets to 76-seat markets; and 76-seat markets into 110-seat markets. Source: OAG data.

Delta’s second-smallest aircraft

Now that Delta’s MD-88s and MD-90s have gone, the 717 is the airline’s sole remaining rear-mounted aircraft, in the mainline fleet anyway. The aircraft has 110 seats, the second-lowest capacity in Delta’s fleet behind only the 109-seat A220-100. Delta is the world’s largest operator of the A220 and one of just two worldwide to operate both the A220-100 and -300.

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Delta’s 717s have an average age of 20.2 years, indicates, about the same age as its B737-800s (20 years) and A319s (19.5 years), but younger than its A320s (25.6 years).

Delta 717
At 108 miles, Atlanta-Chattanooga is Delta’s shortest route by the type this week. At 1,023 miles, Detroit-Sarasota is the longest. This operates only on Saturdays. Photo: Getty Images

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Atlanta is all-important for the 717

To help understand Delta’s use of the 717, we’re looking at its network in the week starting August 16th. Some 53 airports are scheduled to see the aircraft, primarily in the eastern US but as far west as Texas and Kansas. Atlanta is absolutely vital, with 82% of all 717 seats touching Delta’s top hub this week, nearly double the 44% seen in the same week in 2019.

From Atlanta, the 717 is now Delta’s fourth-most-used aircraft, OAG data indicates, behind the A321, B737-900, and B757-200, but ahead of the A320.

Delta's B717 routes this week
This is Delta’s B717 network in the week beginning August 16th, 2021. Image: GCMap.

The 717’s sector distance reduces by 24%

The 717 is to operate 57 routes this week, with an average sector distance of just 421 miles, down from 557 miles before COVID struck, a reduction of one-quarter. This is from a much greater focus on Atlanta and more concentrated feeder routes.

The equipment’s top-10 routes are now just 342 miles, a reduction of 28% since 2019. At the same time, these 10 now represent over four in ten flights, up from fewer than three in ten.

Delta 717
The 717’s average sector of 421 miles compares with 1,109 miles for the B737-800, 954 miles for the A220-100, and 887 miles for the A319. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

57 routes see the 717 this week

With 55 weekly flights, the short 226-mile service from Atlanta to Charlotte, American’s second-largest hub, sees the 717 the most this week. In fact, Delta only uses the type on the route. Indeed, the top-10 routes, shown below, are now either fully or overwhelmingly operated by the 717. They’ve either been downgauged or, more often, ungauged from CRJ-900s.

  1. Atlanta-Charlotte: 55 weekly departures by the B717
  2. Atlanta-Jackson (MS): 51
  3. Atlanta-Houston Hobby: 46
  4. Atlanta-Greenville-Spartanburg: 41
  5. Atlants-Huntsville: 36.
  6. Atlanta-Columbia: 35.
  7. Atlanta-Dallas Love: 34.
  8. Atlanta-Asheville: 32
  9. Atlanta-Louisville: 32
  10. Detroit-Nashville: 28

What are your experiences of Delta’s 717s? Let us know in the comments.