Why Did Delta Air Lines Order Airbus A321s?

Delta Air Lines made its first Airbus A321 order in 2013, with the aircraft entering service in 2016. These aircraft have renewed the narrowbody fleet, and purchases have continued with the A321neo aircraft. Now joined in the airline’s fleet by A330 and A350 aircraft, Delta has moved away from being a Boeing dominated operator. This article looks back at the original introduction of the A321ceo.

Delta A321
Delta Air Lines introduced its first A321ceo in 2016. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Moving from a Boeing based fleet

Before 2013, Delta Air Lines operated a predominately Boeing and McDonnell Douglas based fleet. Its narrowbody fleet since the 1980s, for example, has been dominated by the Boeing 727 and 737, as well as the McDonnell Douglas DC9 and later the MD-88.

Delta 727
Delta was the largest operator of the 727-200 aircraft. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

Up to this time, the airline had little involvement with Airbus. It operated some Airbus A310 aircraft (A310-200 and 300) between 1991 and 1995. These were acquired as part of a deal with bankrupt Pan American World Airways (along with its transatlantic routes). It also acquired some A319 and A320 aircraft through its merger with Northwest in 2008.

Delta A310
The first Airbus aircraft in Delta’s fleet was the A310 in 1991. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

But it was was not until 2013 that Delta made its first order for A321 aircraft with Airbus. This was for 30 A321ceo aircraft (current engine option as opposed to the more efficient new engine option aircraft).

Delta took delivery of its first A321 in Hamburg in March 2016 and operated its first A321 flight on May 3rd, 2016. This was between Atlanta and Orlando. Passengers included Delta’s President Glen Hauenstein.

Delta's first A321
Delta’s first A321 at Goose Bay, during its delivery flight from Europe. Photo: Delta Air Lines

The initial order for 30 aircraft was followed in June 2014 by a further order for 15 aircraft, and another for 37 in April 2016, according to reporting by The Delta Museum. This was increased again later in 2016, taking the total fleet of A321 on order to 122, alongside 126 A320 aircraft. The Airbus family was now a central part of the narrowbody fleet, alongside the Boeing 737.

Renewing the narrowbody fleet with the A321

The A321 was chosen to renew some of Delta’s aging narrowbody fleet. It brought several advantages, including:

  • More efficient operation. The A321 offered newer engines and technology than Delta’s older Boeing 737 and MD-88 aircraft.
  • Higher capacity than the existing fleet. The MD-88, for example, offered 149 seats, compared to 192 on the A321.
  • It was the first Delta aircraft to feature Sharklet wingtips. These provide up to four percent more efficient operation, as well as slightly extended range.
  • New cabin interior design, as well as improved inflight entertainment and WiFi.

Speaking in 2016, Greg May, Delta’s Senior Vice President – Supply Chain Management and Fleet explained the reasons for choosing it. He said the following in a statement seen by Simple Flying:

“The A321 is fast becoming a favorite aircraft of our customers and employees alike. Its excellent operating economics and customer capacity also make it a great fit for our U.S. domestic network.”

Delta A321 interior
The Delta A321 offers a new cabin interior. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Expanding the Airbus fleet with the A321neo

Delta’s purchases of Airbus aircraft have continued since introducing the A321 in 2016. It took delivery of its last Boeing aircraft on order in 2019, and upcoming deliveries are all Airbus aircraft (plus Bombardier CDJ-900 aircraft likely destined for regional carriers).

For its narrowbody fleet, Delta has ordered 100 A321neo (new engine option) aircraft. Delivery of the first aircraft is planned for later in 2020, and the rest through to 2023.

The aircraft, fitted with Pratt & Whitney engine, will offer further efficiency improvements. According to Delta, it will provide a 12 percent fuel efficiency improvement per seat, compared to the A321ceo. It will also provide improved passenger cabins and introduce a new first class seat.

Delta A321neo
Delivery of the A321neo will start later in 2020. Photo: Delta Air Lines

In a press release seen by Simple Flying, commenting on the continued relationship between Airbus and Delta, John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer Customers, Airbus, explained:

“The A321neo will equip Delta employees with a customer-preferred, versatile narrowbody aircraft befitting their position as a global airline leader — and we are excited to continue to partner with them as they deliver industry-leading operational performance, customer satisfaction and financial results.”

What do you think of the Delta Airbus A321 aircraft? Does it improve on the older narrowbody fleet? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.