Looking Back: Delta’s 50 Airbus Widebody Aircraft Order

Six years ago, on November 20th, 2014, Delta Air Lines made a massive order for 50 Airbus widebody aircraft. Split between the A350-900 and the A330-900, the airline, which had previously been a majority-Boeing airline, moved in a new direction, taking on new aircraft from the European manufacturer it was not well acquainted with in the past.

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Delta Air Lines placed an order for A330neos and A350s six years ago. Photo: Airbus

Delta’s massive 50 aircraft order

Delta’s 50-jet order was split equally between the A350-900 and A330-900neo. It marked the culmination in a search for aircraft to replace the aging Boeing 747 jets, of which Delta had no strong desire to continue operating, and Boeing 767 aircraft.

The Airbus A350-900 was ordered with a focus on the airline’s Pacific network. This included long-haul routes to Asia that were flown by Boeing 747s, the carrier inherited from its merger with Northwest Airlines. Delta took the first A350 for a North American operator in 2017.

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Delta Air Lines ordered the A350 as a 747 replacement, which the aircraft has done. Photo: Getty Images

The Airbus A330neos, however, were ordered with the intent to focus on transatlantic missions and select routes to Asia. These aircraft were intended to replace 767-operated routes. The airline later grew its Airbus A330neo order with 10 firm orders and two from a leasing company. The first A330neo arrived at Delta in 2019.

Of these orders, Delta still has A330-900neo and A350s outstanding. Delta did grow its orders for both the A330neo and A350 after placing the initial order.

Delta’s relationship with Boeing and Airbus

Delta Air Lines and Boeing have had a long history. Along with the Boeing 747s inherited from Northwest Airlines, Delta operated plenty of Boeing aircraft, including the 737, 757, 767, and 777. Later, Delta also added the 717 to its fleet.

Its history with Airbus was much slimmer. Delta briefly flew Airbus A310s in the early 1990s. However, it was not until the merger with Northwest Airlines that Delta ended up operating a significant number of Airbus aircraft. With the Northwest merger, the airline took on Airbus A320ceo and A330ceos. Shortly after, the carrier decided to grow its orders with Airbus, adding 10 more A330-300s to the mix and A321ceos.

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Delta is still a massive Boeing operator, and it has shown interest in some other Boeing projects. Photo: Getty Images

Delta’s biggest move with Boeing was to cancel its order for 787s inherited from Northwest Airlines. Aside from completing delivery of 130 Boeing 737-900ERs, Delta has no other Boeing aircraft on order.

Boeing’s current lineup beyond the 787 includes the 777, which Delta has retired, and the 737 MAX, which Delta did not want. So, at the end of the day, it turned to Airbus for more aircraft.

The timing was also likely a big aspect of the order. Delta wanted to get rid of its Boeing 747s fast, and given how popular the 787 was, there likely was not enough slots for Delta to get in and take some jets in time to replace the aircraft it wanted to replace. Airbus, on the other hand, delivered the first A350 on time.

Will Delta turn to Boeing in the future?

Delta has publicly expressed interest in a replacement for its 757s and 767s and it is far away from becoming an all-Airbus airline. The Boeing NMA was one such jet that Delta indicated it could order hundreds of for its operations.

The issue is that Boeing has not formally announced the NMA yet, and Delta has no interest in MAXes, though Boeing did try to sell them some, or the massive 777X or 787. The carrier is looking to get more fleet commonality and simplicity. Adding a 777X or 787 would not do that. However, using the NMA as a replacement for some 767s and most 757s would further that goal.

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Delta does not have a clear replacement for its 757s. Photo: Getty Images

Delta has already pledged to retire all of its Boeing 767s by 2025, so it will likely need to place an order for some aircraft before then to make up for some of that lost capacity. Much of that likely depends on Boeing and the NMA, but it would not be surprising if Boeing does not move forth with the project for Delta to turn to more A330neos and A321neos (including the A321LR or XLR).

Are you glad that Delta decided to go for the A350 and A330neo? What Boeing aircraft do you think Delta should take? Let us know in the comments!