Why Did Delta Air Lines Take On The Boeing 717?

Delta Air Lines currently holds 67 Boeing 717 aircraft in its fleet. The Atlanta-based carrier hasn’t been operating the type for long, with the first delivery occurring just eight years ago. With the type falling out of favor among airlines in recent years, we thought we’d take a look at Delta’s journey with the plane.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 717
Like many other carriers, Delta Air Lines recently announced a shakeup of its fleet, which includes the phasing out of the Boeing 717. Photo: Getty Images

Part of a broader plan

In May 2012, Delta announced that it would be taking on 88 Boeing 717 units upon the ratification of a new tentative agreement covering over 12,000 pilots. Later on that summer, Delta confirmed that the aircraft would replace the airline’s small 50-seat regional jets “on a capacity-neutral basis.”

Overall, the arrival of these narrowbodies was part of the airline’s wider domestic fleet optimization plan, which was kicked off a couple of years earlier. With these aircraft, Delta also sought new fuel-efficient Boeing 737-900ERs during the decade.

Moreover, these 717s would replace the carrier’s DC-9-50s. Incidentally, the 717 was tipped to be a successor to this aircraft’s family. However, amid Boeing’s merger with McDonnell Douglas, what was initially called the MD-95 was renamed to fit in with Boeing’s branding.

Boeing 717
There could have also been other Boeing 737 variants, but plans for shorter and stretched versions were scrapped. Photo: Getty Images

Negotiations with a rival

These aircraft were held by Southwest Airlines after the Texan outfit merged with AirTran, which was the launch customer of the 717. However, Southwest, naturally being a 737 fan, didn’t have much of a requirement for another type. Subsequently, Delta struck a deal for these planes.

Thus, 16 units were due to arrive in 2013, another 36 in 2014, and another 36 the following year. With these deliveries, Delta became the primary operator of the type.

Former Delta CEO Richard Anderson shared the following about the deal in a 2012 statement:

“These actions pave the way for us to restructure and upgauge our domestic fleet, which will lower our costs, provide more pilot jobs and improve the onboard experience for our customers. The addition of the Boeing 717s, additional large regional jets and the planned replacement of 50-seat aircraft continue Delta’s commitment to operating an efficient, flexible domestic fleet that offers customers even more opportunities to upgrade to our First Class and Economy Comfort cabins.”

Los Angeles Exteriors And Landmarks - 2017
Many of Delta Air Lines’ Boeing 717 aircraft are held on lease. Photo: Getty Images

A modern approach

Delta was keen to highlight the updates that came with the 110-seaters. The upgraded interiors would host 12 passengers in First Class and 15 in Economy Comfort. Meanwhile, those in Economy would be seated in a 2-3 formation. There is just one middle seat per row with this configuration. Each passenger would have the option to access WiFi, which is available across all cabins.

The airline was proud to emphasize the amenities of these units. It noted that business passengers would notably be at an advantage by having additional mainline planes with the transition.

It wasn’t just customers that would reap the benefits. Having midsize, efficient planes replace smaller units brings better economics for the company. Having one aircraft replace two smaller vehicles lowers the cost of fuel and other operational fees. Furthermore, this approach is more sustainable than the previous method.

Anderson added the below, as per a Delta statement:

“Adding the Boeing 717 to our fleet will give customers, particularly business travelers, more mainline aircraft service that features their preferred amenities. The 717s also provide Delta with a significant improvement in economic efficiency relative to the aircraft they are replacing.” 

Time for deployment

Before being delivered to Atlanta, the aircraft were reconfigured to Delta’s requirements. For instance, seven seats were removed from the previous setup.

According to ch-aviation, registration N935AT was the first unit to join the fold. This 717-200 arrived in the fall of 2013 and was with the airline until this February. The aircraft first entered service in April 2000 with TWA before AirTran took it on in the summer of 2003.

This aircraft conducted its first flight for Delta on October 25th, 2013. The Delta Flight Museum shares that this service was a trip from the carrier’s home of Atlanta to Newark. Shortly after, operations with the aircraft expanded to Little Rock, Arkansas, and Cleveland.

Delta Airlines Boeing 717-200 aircraft seen at Newark
The Delta Boeing 717 was thrown straight into the deep end with a busy route such as Atlanta to Newark. Photo: Getty Images

Delta’s 717-200 aircraft can reach a range of up to 1,510 miles (2,430 km) and a speed of up to 504 mph (811 km/h). Meanwhile, the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 110,000 lbs. (49,895 kg). Two Rolls-Royce BR715 turbofans help the aircraft achieve these figures across the skies.

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The type today

Presently, the airline is one of only three carriers still operating the type. It is joined by just QantasLink and Hawaiian Airlines. Both of these airlines operate their units on domestic operations. A fourth operator, Volotea, stopped flying the model at the turn of the year.

Hawaiian Getty
The Boeing 717 performs well on short distances and is suitable for airports with shorter runways, making it a vehicle of choice for those that fly jets to remote regions. Photo: Getty Images

Sadly, the 717 continues to be disappearing from the skies. Delta will retire all of its units by the middle of this decade. The company announced last September that the value of these aircraft was no longer recoverable against income from other planes. Overall, the firm isn’t confident in returning a profit with the 717 in the future.

Delta would be looking to focus on its fresh Airbus A220 aircraft, which are a natural 717 replacement. Photo: Getty Images.

Regardless, the 717 has had a strong impact on operations since being introduced in 1999. The plane has been appreciated for being a workhorse on short and medium-haul domestic operations. Delta’s staff will undoubtedly be sad to see it leave in the next few years.

What are your thoughts about Delta Air Lines’ Boeing 717 aircraft? Have you flown on the type with the airline over the years? Also, what do you make of the prospects of the aircraft?  Let us know what you think of the planes in the comment section.