Rumor: Delta Keeping 717s Through 2030, Installing TVs

Filed Under: Delta

There’s an interesting rumor floating around regarding the future of Delta’s 717s, of which they have nearly 100. Initially I thought this was more of a sure thing, though I’d note that Delta issued the following statement:

“While we’re always evaluating how we can enhance the experience for our customers and employees across our fleet, no decisions have been made about adding 717 aircraft in-flight entertainment seatback screens nor extending or shortening the length of time they will remain in operation in our fleet.”

So I’ll keep the post below intact, though note that these are rumors, and Delta claims no final decision has been made.

Delta Keeping 717s Until 2030

Other airlines love to brag about how new their fleet is, though Delta takes a different approach. They have no problem keeping planes for a lot longer than other airlines, but they maintain them well.

For example, while American just retired their last MD-80, Delta still has 93 MD-88/90 aircraft. They do plan on retiring these in the coming years, though.

Delta’s fleet also consists of 91 Boeing 717s, which are basically updated and smaller versions of the MD-80s. They got virtually all of these 717s from AirTran. While the airline was taken over by Southwest, the planes weren’t, so Delta saw an opportunity there.

Well, Delta may keep their 717s all the way through 2030. AirTran initially started taking delivery of the 717s around the late 90s, so by the time these planes retire they would partly be 30+ years old.

Delta Installing Personal Televisions On 717s

As mentioned above, while Delta may have some old planes, they know how to maintain them. When flying Delta I constantly see passengers walk on 20+ year old planes and comment on how nice they are, while you’ll never see anyone say that about one of American’s new narrow body planes.

Delta has a big focus on offering personal televisions at every seat. As part of their plans to keep 717s through 2030, Delta may install personal televisions on these planes, which would be a $70 million investment.

Talk about an airline going for product consistency. If they complete this project and retire their MD-88/90 aircraft, all of Delta’s mainline planes would have personal televisions.

What Does Keeping The 717 Mean For The A220?

What makes Delta’s decision to keep the 717 for longer so interesting is that the airline sort of has a direct replacement for the plane — the A220.

Delta has a total of 95 A220s on order, split between 45 A220-100s and 50 A220-300s. The former have a capacity of 109 seats, while the latter have a capacity of 130 seats. As a point of comparison, the 717 has a total of 110 seats.

So what does this tell us?

  • The 717s must be really cheap to keep, given Delta has decided to keep those rather than ordering more A220s, which have significantly lower operating costs
  • Delta sees big demand in the next decade for small mainline jets — 110 seats is significantly lower capacity than the 737 and A320 family aircraft

Delta A220-100 cabin

Delta 717 Summary

I’ll be curious to see if this rumor turns out to be true.

In general, Delta sure has a strategy and sticks to it — they don’t really care about their average fleet age, and would rather invest some of that money to making the interiors of their planes look new. Personally I think this is a great approach to take.

On one hand it’s a bit surprising if Delta keeps their 717s for more than another decade, especially with so many A220s joining the fleet. Then again, I guess Delta has nearly 200 717s and MD-88/90s, so that’s a lot of planes they’d need to replace

Do you think Delta will keep their 717s around through 2030?

Comments
  1. Color me a fan of this.

    Yes, these will be used primarily for short flights, though for the sake of product consistency and even just being able to watch a few TV episodes, it is a great improvement over not having.

    Air Canada has PTV on all their mainline jets, and they even have it installed on their regional E-175 as well. Do not know of other airlines (at the moment) that have PTV on the E75.

  2. Good. Like you said, Delta’s interiors are mostly consistent and you never realize how old the plane is because they’re so well maintained, have PTVs, mood lighting, customized panelings, etc. And it doesn’t even affect their on-time performance from mechanical delays because like you said, they are well maintained. Meanwhile…AA’s “brand new” 737s…

  3. I like the t-tail aircraft – glad to see them flying for a good while longer

    Not a fan of Delta interiors and hubs

  4. Huzzah! We have many 2-3-hour 717 flights out of MSP to/from the Northeast, good for at least a full movie. Honestly I’d rather have a 717 with no PTV than a new 739, so this is a real bonus. Glad to hear they’re sticking around.

  5. Not a bad plan, but if fuel prices were to skyrocket, they might reevaluate since the A220 is much more efficient.

  6. I love the 17’s. They generally serve markets that would otherwise get RJ service and row 10 is a great place to be for a couple hours. Delta is the only airline serving my home airport – CHO – with mainline service and it’s on a 17.

  7. So…if AA and UA typically copy DL but haven’t where planes and upkeep are concerned that then means that UA and AA are keeping investors happy with shiny new things vs being actually prudent with expenditures…

  8. I am glad to hear this. When their is a choice of a CRJ-900 or a 717 I much prefer the 717. The 717 is just a newer version of the DC-9, which served Northwest Airlines and Delta faithfully for well over 30 years. Like other McDonnell Douglas aircraft, the 717 is built to last.

  9. Who doesn’t like an airplane with 80% aisle or window seats? And how much does fuel cost, per passenger mile, for the 717 compared with the 220?

  10. Delta is reducing their dependancy on regional connection carriers by eliminating their contracts with 3 of 5 of them. More capacity , reliability and control. Brilliant!!

  11. Even at the higher fuel costs, remember, the 717s were acquired for dirt cheap. So the “higher” cost is one of operating, not capital. We don’t know how the fully baked trip costs actually compare. This is extremely attractive as it means Delta can choose to park them or lower utilization if needed and not really face big costs or pressure for utilization flying. This is critical with the uncertain economic outlook for the next 10 years. By lowering utilization, Delta can also benefit from more ground time between flights, which improves overall on-time percentage. The 717 is also a proven workhorse, which means it is unlikely to suffer grounding that has affected recent new airplane introductions.

  12. @Ben (Lucky)

    Agree that the decision to add PTV to the 717s is a good customer investment. Do you really think that passengers on a newly delivered AA aircraft would NEVER make this comment:

    “When flying Delta I constantly see passengers walk on 20+ year old planes and comment on how nice they are, while you’ll never see anyone say that about one of American’s new narrow body planes.”

  13. Well I for one am glad to hear this. I flew on a couple of 717s this past April and I rather like them. Im very fond of the basic DC9 family of aircraft and kind of sad that more of the 717s (MD-95s) were not built and ordered by more airlines. I guess don’t lose our beloved PuppyDogs just yet!!

  14. “When flying Delta I constantly see passengers walk on 20+ year old planes and comment on how nice they are”

    That sums up how good Delta is doing to cover up old planes.

    Another this that is missing here is ‘scope clause’. This is a cheap way to maintain balance and keep ALPA happy while being able to operate more smaller planes.

    Delta loves the MD95 so much they went to Blue1 for 3 more planes. AirTran was a big win for Delta. Interesting enough, the DC9 lineage starts at Delta in 1965 and probably will end at Delta 2030, that’s 65 years in service for this plane. Let’s not make 737 fly over 100 years please.

  15. I think this is a fine idea. They are great for feed into large hubs where they are used such as Atlanta and New York.

    Something which they do which is smart is reduce the time older planes are in the air. So Delta might have the 220 run for 16 hours a day while the 717 only runs for 10-12 hours a day, thus alloting time for maintaince fixes, very smart

  16. They’e Just started adding 717 flights from ROC-JFK, so I’d imagine they may use them to replace CRJ’s in some markets?

  17. @Justin, CHO is my home airport, too. Which airline do you usually fly with? I avoid AA as much as I can. I haven’t flown Delta much. I usually end up flying United and prefer to connect through IAD. I figured if the flight is cancelled, I can at least drive.

  18. @Noah You beat me to it. Southwest practically gave those jets to Delta and refurbished them, so even if they use a lot of fuel, their total cost is very low.

    Like Lucky, I’ve heard passengers on Delta flights gushing over flying on a brand new plane, when they had no idea it was 20 years old.

  19. There are a couple of things here,

    First, I don’t believe anyone was interested in buying the used 717s, so Delta probably got a screaming good deal to keep them another 10+ years. Delta is definitely an opportunistic buyer in situations like this.

    It also allows them to continue to upgauge. CR2 to CR7. CR7 to E70s/75’s, Now from an RJ to mainline.

    They also have crazy major expansion plans. BOS, RDU, AUS, SJC, LAS. Call them hubs, mini hubs,m focus cities…whatever you want. But there are people in all those cities that want/need to fly.

    They also announced that EPS for the current quarter should be up 25%. That is a huge increase. Call me a fanboy, but I think the EPS growth and almost 90% load factors mean they have taken a chunk of business from AA…and with moves like adding PTV, they plan on keeping the business.

    And finally on PTVs, the carrier that removed the screens say “they don’t matter.” I can’t tell you how many times this summer, a family got om a flight and the kids looked behind Row 1 to see if there was a screen…and then said “cool” or “awesome,” that “they have TV!” It makes a difference if you’re on a plane for 4-5 hours…shorter distances too.

  20. Hate the MD-8x / 717 line. Not a huge fan of the 737 line either. I avoid whenever possible. Delta’s interiors have become really cramped on both of these planes over the past few years.

  21. Delta loves to upgauge because it let them increase passenger volume through ATL while at the same time limiting or reducing congestion. I suspect there is also enough institutional memory remaining at Virginia Avenue about how awful ASA (Satan’s commuter airline) was from both a passenger experience and operations standpoint and how keeping lower volume routes in-house lets them not only maintain better quality control but also contain costs better compared to the price the mothership had to pay for yet another round of ASA mistakes.

  22. Delta has over 100 new 321s and 130 new 739s. The 350s. The 330neos. The 220s. I know they have the 717 and MD88s too, with 757/767/777 in the middle, but has their fleet age really not improved at all?

  23. Qantas also operates the 717. Alan Joyce is on record as saying he wished he could get more of then as they extremely reliable.

  24. I don’t think this about 717 vs A220, but rather 717 vs CRJ.

    A220 makes it economical to fly further without unnecessary capacity. It’s also comfortable for passengers. It’s perfect for picking off traffic from competitors at out stations without the cost.

    717, as with many older planes, are economical to fly shorter dances and with low utilization. This is perfect for upgauging CRJ routes and augmenting capacity for peak travel season and weather/mechanical issues. It also helps them continue a diversified their fleet without the cost. As we’ve seen with the 737 MAX and nearly all the latest gen engines, it can be painful to adopt a new aircraft.

    Delta has stated their desire to expand via upgauging and international flying. The US market is in a steady state. The only way to grow is to pick up market share or find new markets abroad. The 717 is a good tool to enable the A220 what it does best and bring more regional traffic to nearby hubs.

    I commend Delta for not being stingy about their cabins on older aircraft. Many carriers can’t be bothered to put in power on their legacy narrow bodies.

    I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I really like IFEs for monitoring the flight. It’s great to glance at the flight show while working. It’s like having an extra screen to multi task. Having live TV is great on shorter flights. During major sporting events or presidential debates, majority of the cabin tunes in.

  25. Like the DC9 before it, the 717 was built like a tank. They’re very reliable, relatively easy and inexpensive to maintain and once they’re fully depreciated they will be very cheap to operate, even when fuel prices rise.

    Back in the ‘90s Northwest made the decision to put about 3-4 million into each of their DC9s and flew them for another 20 years. Despite its age the DC9 was the second most reliable plane in their fleet; second only to the 757 (a much newer plane). It was a very wise decision for Northwest, and Delta is making a similar wise decision with the 717 (MD-95).

  26. This definitely improves Delta’s economics, too. The planes are likely fully depreciated for book and tax purposes at this point, have zero tax basis and either a salvage book or zero book value yet are in the position to continue to generate revenue. You can’t get that many A220 fast enough to replace 717s. The FlyingMag article from Aug, 2019 notes: “By the middle of the next decade, the Mobile factory will produce between 40 and 50 aircraft per year, Airbus said.” Add the plant in Mirabel that, at most, cap eek out 10 aircraft per month, with a backlog of >600 A220 orders it will be a while before anyone with interest in a substantial number of A220s will actually be able to get them. Delta was among the first to order almost 100 of them and I see it as adding a new capability (thin long routes) rather than replacing anything. Keeping 717s also frees up CapEx capacity to pick up new shiny toys that are not mere replacements of the aging planes but allow Delta to serve markets it did not before, and perhaps eek out another competitive advantage over its direct competitors.

    I am glad ERJ-135 and ERJ-145 are gone from Delta regional operations. UA and AA still fly those! Classic CRJs are far better even though I see why anyone would prefer a refurbished 717 given an option.

  27. When you own the plane and operational cost are low that means profits are high. Why not put a little money into it keep customers happy and pay for the rest or your new fleet of A220s while they work out all the kinks out. It like own a Honda that’s been extremely reliable and its paid off, then deciding when Kia first came out to go by a new one. Hey I could pay for it cash and keep the Honda too cause you never know what may happen with a new product.

  28. @Alan
    Delta is keeping their employees AND investors happy with over 1B in profit sharing the last five years. And this year is going to break records too! Warren Buffet agrees, Berkshire Hathaway sold AA and UA stocks and bought 10% of Delta Airlines! Our MD aircraft are old, but they are tanks, and we keep them in top shape; I’ve seen us spend tens of thousands to fix a plane properly knowing that it would be retired in just a couple of months. And when it comes to operating cost, sure the A220 sips fuel, but the 717s were practically given to us by AirTran, so no bank note which means they are actually cheaper to operate.
    Scott Proud Delta AMT

  29. Delta has a business model which optimizes the company’s profitability and provide what domestic US customers want. Southwest is the US’s largest domestic carrier largely because they manage customer expectations by doing what they do well. The other two, ahem.

  30. @Matt CHO is my home airport as well. I fly AA simply because of the number of flights they offer and the fact that they fly through CLT, PHL, LGA and ORD. If anything goes wrong, you can always connect through a different city. I am also a big fan of the CR9.

    PHL is a great airport. It gets a bad rep but I find it to be one of the most pleasant airports to connect through in the U.S. The regional terminal has an excellent food court and you don’t have to walk ten miles through a jam packed terminal and out to a remote gate like you do at CLT

  31. I recently flew from BWI to MSP on a Delta 717. It was very comfortable and clean. There was no PTV. As an adult, I brought my own entertainment. I had my iPhone, iPad, and even my Kindle with 100 books on it. I didn’t need a TV to keep myself entertained.

  32. These planes rock as I fly on them every week and super excited that they are getting IFE. Way better than any 737 out there, which should be scrapped in my opinion and a needs a clean sheet design. The 3-2 config is even better, most people hate on it but I like it since it is more chances to not get stuck in the dreaded middle seat. Nice to see DL stick with this type longer!

  33. @Jonathan: you’re on the wrong side of the must-bring-everything-with-you divide.

    I recently got a hotel room. It was very comfortable and clean. “As an adult I brought my own soap and shampoo: I didn’t need the hotel to provide them to stay clean” said nobody ever.

  34. If Delta intends to move the 717’s to short haul flights, really not much of a difference in burn vs an A220. Add in the relatively low price they acquired the 717 for vs a new A220, makes no sense to replace the 717 with the former for short runs.

  35. @Lucky et al

    Where is the 717 update coming from? Is there a statement from Delta? I did not see anything from Delta on this and others are saying Delta is denying this.

  36. @John — “Does anyone know if md88 spare parts would work on a 717?”

    Right question to ask — the obvious issue of fuel efficiencies of newer aircraft aside (since Delta got their 717s for really cheap), there is still the issue of how long replacement parts will continue to be manufactured (last deliveries done in May, 2006), before cannibalizing of existing aircraft for maintenance parts becomes a necessity …

  37. I’m really hoping this is true. The Angry Puppy is a perfect replacement for the RJ200. NOBODY likes that POS! I’m 5’4″ and I feel like I’m getting smushed to death on that horrible plane. I’m sorry to say I’ve never had the opportunity to fly an Angry Puppy. I want that to change. As a loyal Delta flyer, Lucky is absolutely correct – I couldn’t begin to guess at the age of any Delta craft I’m on because Delta keeps them in such pristine condition. Delta is the most people-oriented airline I’ve ever been on. I am physically crippled. Delta treats me like a princess, even if I’m in economy. Can’t say the same for Agony Airlines. Please, please, please Delta, keep the Angry Puppies around awhile longer. I really wanna have a chance to fly one! And as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going!” Lol!

  38. @tom your logic is flawed. That’s like saying that someone who buys the new C8 Corvette is buying a 60 year old car. 717s are not 50 years old and the flight deck has almost no resemblance to a DC9. And because Delta determines aircraft that fly 15 hour flights need to be replaced by new A350s has zero bearing on whether they need brand new aircraft for 45 minute flights.

  39. I prefer these older MD’s, not only do they have a two seat row but even the three seat side has more width than the newer 3×3 Boeing jets. Delta is the best because unlike American or United they focus on the customer. Who cares if the plane is older when it looks good and provides a good experience?

  40. Delta must know something most other airlines don’t. Take care of your assets and the assets will produce for you! The Delta 717’s I have flown on have all looked “showroom” new. Adding entertainment to the plane will standardize the customer experience.

    Researching the engines on the Delta 717’s, there is an upgrade coming in 2020 or so, called Advance 2. This reportedly will improve fuel comsuption/burn by 10% and reduce NOx emissions.

    If Delta adds this technology to the engines and the 10% decrease in fuel burn happens, then Delta will have a another plane that will allow yet more “thin” routes to be opened. This maximizes it hubs, fills its upguaged routes, and makes money. Which Delta then invests in it employees with yearly bonuses!!!

    Good play Delta!!!

  41. I wonder if those A220 will be very reliable. The GTF engines may be more economical but normally increased complexity leads to more maintenance. As many stated, the 717s are very reliable it will be hard to beat that.

  42. @Pedro V Santos — “I wonder if those A220 will be very reliable. The GTF engines may be more economical but normally increased complexity leads to more maintenance. As many stated, the 717s are very reliable it will be hard to beat that.”

    Well … time will tell, but this is kinda like comparing apples and oranges — the new P&W GTF engines are breakthrough state-of-the-art next generation, and will, as has already occurred, experience teething pains, just as all new-generation products do (including GE’s GE9X engines that are causing delays for the new 777X)! The 717s are very reliable because it had already been in production for decades. Give the GTF about 5 years and we should know much better by then, just how much of a benefit in efficiency and reliability it is for the A200s!

  43. @billc @pedri V santos deltatechops is the exclusive approved maintenance center for the P&W pure power family in north america so if anyone can make them run reliably it will be delta

  44. @Sunny leveson-jones — “delta techops is the exclusive approved maintenance center for the P&W pure power family in north america so if anyone can make them run reliably it will be delta”

    Yes … that will be great! What I’m referring to are the “teething pains” that all new-generation products inevitably experience during their earliest days of deployment into initial services. Sometimes those issues result from current-day OEM manufacturing issues that are evolving towards future manufacturing stability and reliability. Hopefully such “teething” periods can be made as short as possible!

  45. That’s true. However, in this case it’s not just that. There’s an additional “gearbox”. That means more moving parts, more wear, more things to keep lubricated, checked, maintained, etc.
    Also, P&W has had some challenges with the fans and compressors lately even in the EA engines for the A380.

  46. @Pedro V Santos — “There’s an additional “gearbox”.”

    Exactly! This gearbox is the “teething pains” that I was referring to! But once such early production issues get resolved and stabilized, then the price/performance benefits should kick in to make it all worthwhile!

    As for “other” challenges, one has to feel really bad for RR, which had to pull out of bidding for Boeing’s NMA program, on top of their production problems in supplying Trent 1000/Cs for so many 787s worldwide!

  47. It was great that they would be adding PTV to the plane.
    I never understand those cutting cost methods are candy-coated as “personally designed to fit right on your device” where the connection is slow as hell. It was just great to use the PTV which have a much better user interface and more user-friendly.
    Delta is the best US airlines I’ve flown, at least it seems like they care about their customer.
    and it feels like less flight granny to me, which I prefer.

  48. @Ross

    You love the 717 because it has 2-3 seating.

    Gee

    SO DOES THE C-Series (A100/300).

    Guess which is quieter and offers the better ride?

    The MD Series were great in their time (I rode them many hours) but the Bombardier is much superior.

  49. The photo shown here is for a A220 (CS300) from DL to show how the updates on seating would look for the B717 that has similar configuration to A220 and MD-80’s….

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