By today’s standards, Delta Air Lines may have a relatively ancient fleet of planes, but the carrier is aggressively replacing older equipment with newer aircraft.
Delta Air Lines considers the brand-new Airbus A321 to be the carrier’s flagship aircraft. In the coming years, the airline expects to bring the number of A321s entering service to at least 122 new planes.
Delta officials have been busy touting the modern advantages of the shiny new aircraft. The A321 features over-sized overhead storage bins, in-seat charging outlets on every row in most cases, private suites and a state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system, as well as jet lag-reducing amenities such as full spectrum LED lighting, larger windows and better pressurization. The flagship aircraft also has less glamorous advantages, like wingtip sharklets that will increase fuel efficiency by as much as 4 percent.
“The A321 is fast becoming a favorite aircraft of our customers and employees alike,” Delta VP Greg May explained in a statement announcing that the carrier would increase its Airbus order by at least ten new jets. “Its excellent operating economics and customer capacity also make it a great fit for our U.S. domestic network.”
Meanwhile, the airline has announced that it will purchase at least 20 new Bombardier CRJ900 planes to replace older regional jet aircraft flown by its Delta Connection partners. The new regional jets will also feature amenities including larger overhead storage, bigger lavatories and exclusive Atmosphère Cabins.
Despite Delta’s aggressive plans to update its aging fleet, Yahoo Finance reports that the legacy carrier has one of the oldest fleets of any major U.S. airline. Only ultra-low-cost-carrier Allegiant Air has an older average fleet age.
Delta’s business model may allow the airline to fly older aircraft longer than many of its North American competitors. While airlines like Southwest and JetBlue depend on low fuel and maintenance costs in order to keep fares low, Delta is more able to attract customers with comfort and convenience (which the company can often accomplish just as easily with older planes as it can with newer aircraft).
In 2014, when Delta’s average plane was even older than the average aircraft in its fleet today, industry expert Richard Aboulafia, Vice President of Analysis at Washington-based Teal Group, told FlyerTalk that the hype surrounding the advantages of new aircraft might be somewhat overstated.
“I would urge everyone who follows the industry to ignore those statements.” Aboulafia noted that when an airline makes claims about the age of its fleet, it is more likely trying to woo investors rather than passengers. “If you’re an airline, you’re not selling your fleet, you’re selling your product. The last time I flew Delta long-haul, it was on an ex-Northwest 747, and I didn’t mind because my business class seat was gorgeous.”
Since then, Delta has retired its Boeing 747 planes from regularly scheduled service and has made a substantial investment in updating its fleet. While Delta’s fleet is getting younger, the competition certainly isn’t standing pat. Southwest Airlines which has historically had among the youngest average fleets of any U.S. airline, has agreed to purchase at least 40 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in a deal valued at more than $4 billion.