How Delta Employees Bought The Airline A Boeing 767

The first Boeing 767 for Delta was a special aircraft for the airline. In fact, Delta’s employees bought the aircraft for Delta as a gesture of appreciation. When the first Boeing 767 was delivered in 1982, Delta faced some tough times. However, their employees bound together and sought to keep Delta flying for years to come.

Spirit of Delta
Delta’s employees bought the airline a Boeing 767. Photo: Delta

“Project 767”

The Delta Flight Museum website has a page dedicated to the Boeing 767. The original effort involved much tenacity and ambition from three Delta flight attendants. At the end of their fundraising drive, Delta’s employees raised $30 million to finance the new aircraft.

Finally, on December 15th, 1982, 7,000 employees gathered at the celebration to christen Ship 102. The Boeing 767-200 was named “The Spirit of Delta”, and came at a time of financial headwinds for the carrier.

For the first time in 35 years, Delta had posted a net loss. At the time, the airline industry was struggling due to a weak economy and high fuel prices. Beyond that, airline deregulation created a competitive market. Delta’s employees, however, were unwilling to let the airline fail.

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7,000 employees gathered to celebrate Delta’s first 767. Photo: Delta

After this ceremony, the 767 flew its inaugural service flight from Delta’s main hub in Atlanta to Tampa, Florida. This leisure route was a huge market for Delta and still is to this day. Currently, Delta flies a Boeing 767-300ER from Tampa on a transatlantic flight to KLM’s hub in Amsterdam.

Delta 767
A modern-day Delta Air Lines 767. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

The aircraft was configured in a 204-seat layout, with a focus on leisure routes with 18 first class seats and 186 main cabin seats.

Ready for retirement

At the end of Ship 102’s life, the aircraft had seen many phases of Delta. The aircraft was painted in special liveries that included a celebration of the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta. In addition, in 2004, the Spirit of Delta flew in 75th Anniversary livery. This aircraft was the natural choice to receive the special livery. At the end of its in-service life, the time came for retirement. In February, 2006, the Spirit of Delta left service after 70,697 hours in the air. This comprised 34,389 trip cycles.

After a farewell tour, the Spirit of Delta was ready to receive a new life as a showpiece at Delta’s museum.

Spirit of Delta
The Boeing 767 serves purposefully as an exhibit at Delta’s Flight Museum. Photo: Delta

Transition to a museum

The aircraft now resides in Historic Hangar 2 at the Delta Flight Museum. On the inside, Delta rejigged the aircraft to serve as a museum exhibit. The first half of the aircraft is left intact so that visitors can revisit the old Delta experience and try out the seats in first and main cabin classes. In addition, there is a model galley with figures in Delta’s uniforms.

Flight attendant galley mockup
The aircraft also highlights figures working in the galley. Photo: Delta

However, the back half of the aircraft was gutted and revamped to serve as a museum highlighting the story of the Spirit of Delta.

Reconfiguration of the aircraft
The back half of the Boeing 767 was gutted to create an exhibit. Photo: Delta

In the back half of the aircraft, the exhibit boasts artifacts including uniforms and toys from the flight experience.

Museum Exhibit
The exhibit highlights artifacts such as uniforms. Photo: Delta

Just last year, the museum itself received over 108,000 visitors. These visitors came both as tourists and to participate in various events held at the Delta Flight Museum.

The impact of the Boeing 767

The Boeing 767-200 was one of the most modern and advanced jets to enter Delta’s fleet in the early 1980s. Improvements on traditional aircraft design included an advanced wing design that allowed for efficient lift and a faster climb to cruising altitude.

The aircraft was 30% more efficient than the jets the 767 replaced. Furthermore, passengers could pass the ride in comfort as the 767 was quieter than older aircraft. In the cockpit, a digital glass cockpit composed of 40 computers provided the pilots with an advanced, modern flight experience.

Cockpit
The cockpit was one of the most modern of its time. Photo: Delta

Delta seemed to love the Boeing 767-200 since they ordered the extended range 767-300ER and later Boeing 767-400ER. Currently, Delta operates a significant number of these aircraft on key long-haul and premium domestic routes. However, the Boeing 767-200 mainly flew on intermediate and transcontinental routes.

The culture at Delta

For the airline, the Spirit of Delta is a major representation of the culture at Delta. Reflecting on Delta’s history, CEO Ed Bastian had the following to say:

When I think of everything we’ve achieved to reach a position of leadership in this industry – when so many other airlines didn’t survive – I always come back to our people. They’re the best, and they’ve kept our culture alive and thriving through every challenge we’ve faced. With the Delta people behind us, I truly believe our best days as a company are still ahead.

Often times, the culture at an airline can become distorted when there is distrust or disenchantment with the job. Many airlines have built a reputation based on the demeanor of their employees and Delta strives to do the same. Ship 102 is a testament to the resilience and support of Delta’s employees.

Delta Employees
Delta believes their culture is reflected through its employees. Photo: Delta

Simple Flying would like to acknowledge the support and efforts of Delta’s media team to get us in contact with specialists at the Delta Flight Museum. A special thanks goes out to Tiffany Meng, Director – Delta Flight Museum Operations for providing us with further details on the nature of Ship 102, the “Spirit of Delta”.

2 comments
  1. My hats off to delta’s employees!! The 767 was and is a workforce for Delta. Glad to see Delta is still flying the 300er and 400 for years to come. One of the best planes in Delta’s fleet!

  2. In 1979 (I think) Flight magazine had a profile of Delta. (I think I still have it somewhere but you might want to ask the magazine if you can publish the article.) It was all about the unique leadership culture at the Airline. They had built the employees into a team. Promotion was mostly from the inside and everyone did what was necessary, not just what was in their job specs. A friend bought me, Delta: The History of an Airline (1979) by Lewis & Newton. The airline started as a crop-dusting service by C E Woolman who built the culture that eventually resulted in the 767 gift. Delta, in those days like Toyota rarely made a loss in, arguably, the most cyclical sector of industry. The behaviour of their CEO at that time, David D Garrett, is interesting to understand, and in my opinion similar to Toyota’s Golden Rule of Genchi Genbutsu. By the way, customer service was up there with the best.

    And then later on they went into Chapter 11. Why?

    Jan Carlzon was another great leader at SAS in the 80s. He took a joke and made it the most punctual airline with the best service in Europe while delivering a healthy profit. I know, because I flew to and from Oslo and around Scandinavia during that time and have my own war stories of the quality of their service.

    Simple Flying might want to do a series of profiles of the outstanding airline leaders in history. It might be a salutary lesson for the majority of current leaders who only think of “maximising shareholder value” (at any long-term cost) so they look good at the next shareholders’ meeting and can then increase their golden parachute. This narrow focus on the bottom line has also destroyed comfort and well being for those that sit at the back, what Flight defines as “self-loading cargo”.

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