Wow: Delta’s Badly Damaged 757 Will Fly Again

Filed Under: Delta

Update: Delta’s damaged 757 is back in service.

Just over a month ago a Delta 757 flying from New York to Ponta Delgada in the Azores had a rough landing. Like, a really rough landing.

The plane sustained a shocking number of rips and tears throughout the fuselage and wings.

A couple of readers were on the flight and shared their experience. For example, reader Beth said the following:

I was on this flight and am a frequent flier, but first time to the Azores. It was overcast. The approach is over the coast above cliffs. All seemed fine, though there was some not uncommon wing wagging. But, the initial impact was very hard and not on all gear, mostly on the left, not nose or right. We bounced and came down hard again on the left, possibly some on the nose gear, and bounced up and tilted to the left. I was in first cabin and this was pretty pronounced. At this point, I was unsure of a landing or accident. But, on the next bounce, we evened out, then came up slightly, then down and held. I’ve had hard landings, but never had a landing like that. I was surprised the other passengers didn’t talk about it, because it’s true we did not. Perhaps, people didn’t want to admit they were scared or other parts of the plane didn’t get the same impact. I don’t pretend to know about the effect of different winds or piloting, etc., but it went bad, and almost real bad.

Reader Erinr said the following:

I was on this flight. It seemed like a crosswind issue, lots of crabbing into the approach, and the wings never seemed level. We bounced so hard everything flew around the cabin. Id be curious if the PA announcements were recorded cause they were kinda slurry. Just thankful to be on the ground and on my honeymoon.

With the level of damage, a lot of people assumed that this would be a write-off, and that the plane would never fly again. It’s one thing if one particular part of a plane is badly damaged, but when several parts of the fuselage, the wings, etc., all have damage, one would assume it’s really bad.

We’ve known for the past few weeks that Delta was planning on trying to fix this plane. After all, we all know that Delta likes planes that are fixer-uppers. In late August an Antonov AN-124 was even flown to Ponta Delgada with supplies to try and fix the plane.

Well, there’s a very interesting update on that front — Delta will fly their damaged Boeing 757 from Ponta Delgada to Atlanta today. The plane has the registration code N543US, and is scheduled to ferry back to Atlanta as DL9959.

While the plane is scheduled to depart, it looks like it’s delayed, and still hasn’t left. Looking at the webcam for Ponta Delgada Airport, you can still see the Delta 757 parked towards the very back.

So I imagine it’s departing soon, or that they’re at least confident about it departing soon.

I haven’t been able to find any more info about the condition of the plane. Were they really able to buff out all the damage, or do they have confidence in a slightly fixed 757 making it back to Atlanta?

Fascinating stuff. I wish we had more info about what fixes they made to the plane…

(Tip of the hat to Franco)

  1. Saw one of Delta’s MRO guys last week at a trade show and when he mentioned it was fixed I was floored. I was sure it would be a total loss. He said because it’s one of the very few 757 ERs it had to be fixed.

  2. I’m not an engineer but is it really “fixed”? With enough time and money I guess anything can be made flyable but do they really have facilities and tooling to do that in the Azores? If i was booking a flight on a Delta 757 in the future I might start checking registration codes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  3. Do we believe random passengers and their evaluations?

    “We bounced so hard everything flew around the cabin.” Really? No press reports of that. Or injuries.

    Maybe DL flew it back to ATL for use as parts, vs paying to store it somewhere remote? What do we really know?

  4. @Neil that’s also what I was thinking… DL flying the 757 back to the States so they can re-use the parts that are in good condition as replacements

  5. Jeffery; if it’s any consolation, a repair of that magnitude is designed by the manufacturer’s major repairs department.

    Unrelated, I still haven’t seen any proof of this alleged wing damage. I think people are mistaking the fuselage crown for a wing.

  6. Flying over Boston en route to Atlanta? We didn’t have these northern routes before climate change and so many Atlantic hurricanes.

  7. It looks like they intentionally flying this to get over the continental US as soon as possible. Also they’re filed at FL380 (and currently at FL280), so probably aren’t any pressurization issues. I wonder if the pilots have to wear their masks for the whole flight.

  8. Delta is an irresponsible and greedy airline. This plane should be written off and never see passengers again. Similarly, they shouldn’t be flying ancient MD-88 and MD-99 planes. You really get the sense that Delta reflects the corporate culture of Atlanta: cut costs, treat labor like garbage, and then pretend to “be nice” with some sickeningly sweet “y’all” and “have a nice day.”

  9. @Anthony

    I doubt you are qualified to determine whether any aircraft should be written off or should be flying. Venting much about some personal issue you may have with Delta or the city of Atlanta?

  10. I was on a similar flight on Lufthansa A320 landing (or not) in Prague. Fortunately, the pilot was able to take off before we actually touched down and we flew back in about 15 minutes later. Nothing flew all over the cabin, but it was scary as all get-out and I would prefer not to have to do that again. I would fly on that plane again as I would on a 737 MAX. Most of us do not exaggerate.

  11. Anthony is absolutely correct: DL is a greedy, corrupt airline who got a sweetheart deal with the equally corrupt Atlanta city hall, and now is running a monopoly out or Atlanta airport…

  12. Had a rough landing on a Finnair A330. Planed landed on the left side and swayed side to side and bounced down the runway. The cockpit was closed when we departed the plane. Not sure if that’s a Finnair thing or maybe they were on the radio discussing the damage 🙂
    It was a strange feeling like we were going to lean to one side. Pretty scary.

  13. Just because the aircraft is able to fly back to Atlanta doesn’t necessarily mean it is (or will be made) fit to fly passengers. It’s possible the ferry flight is flown at slower airspeed(s) and lower altitude(s) with little or no cabin pressurization to reduce stress on the aircraft.

    I’m sure Delta’s mechanics will be able to do a more thorough inspection back in Atlanta than in the Azores.

  14. DL9959 is enroute. About 4 hrs to go to Atlanta. Hope DL’s CEO is on it! 🙂

    And for all those who think DL is greedy, corrupt, etc., go fly a kite! DL consistently performs better than other American mainline airlines. I think only Hawaiian and Alaska might outperform DL but neither of those has the reach, capacity, or international scope of DL.

  15. I seriously doubt that the decision to fix or scrap was made by Delta. I assume the insurer of the hull , probably in consultation with Boeing, made the call. That’s just my opinion . However , if I have to trust a tech ops team , then I am more than happy to trust DL ‘s tech ops .

  16. The aircraft got a ferry permit for it to be flown to a maintenance site for further repair.Jets use an extraordinary amount of fuel when flown well below normal cruise altitudes.
    The aircraft skin,is rippled,but intact,so the pressure hull may not have been breached. A pressurisation test would have been performed on the ground to determine the hull integrity.They probably flew it with a lower than normal pressure differential,so as not to overstress the fuselage.The bottom line is that if the aircraft was not airworthy for the ferry permit,it would not have been flown back to Atlanta. Period!

  17. Quit whining. It takes profit to invest. It’s not greed. Time for dome if you to start a business and see what it’s like

  18. The armchair experts here are hilarious.

    No, the aircraft is no flying unpressurized, nor at a reduced altitude. Even for an empty ferry flight, there’s pretty much no way on Earth that they would – or even could – fly a 757 that far across the Atlantic unpressurized without a fuel stop. It’s presently cruising along at 34,000 feet.

    As for the Northerly route, umm… yes, trans-Atlantic flights to/from Atlanta pass over the Northeast frequently. It turns out that the Earth is a sphere, not flat. The great arc from ATL to CDG passes literally almost directly over JFK, as this flight is doing. There is a less than 1 mile total difference between the ATL-CDG great arc and the sum of the ATL-JFK and JFK-CDG great arcs. Though, I suppose you’re technically not wrong that planes didn’t frequently fly that far North for trans-Atlantic routes to/from ATL before anthropogenic climate change started in the mid 1800s, since planes didn’t exist back then.

    As for this particular flight from the Azores, there is currently strong Southeasterly wind blowing over the Azores for a couple hundred miles or so. So this particular flight probably initially flew a bit farther North than the great arc to take advantage of these tail winds, as opposed to facing the headwinds of the jet stream if it had taken a more Southerly route. Even from PDL, flying over JFK to get to ATL is only 55 miles farther than the great arc path.

  19. Wow, a lot of folks who aren’t in the aviation biz making pronouncements like Delta is greedy, corrupt, etc., etc., etc…

    Here’s the bottom line: if it’s more economical to fix the plane than scrap it, then Delta will fix it. A ferry permit of some form will need to be obtained from EASA and the FAA specifying the 757’s route, altitude, pressurization, routing, etc., depending upon what’s actually damaged. Neither the EASA nor the FAA (post-MAX fiasco) will allow the plane to fly if it’s unsafe to do so, subject to certain limitations. The plane will not be returned to general service until the repairs and significant inspections are performed on it, thus protecting the flying public. Given the public nature of this 757’s damage, you can be sure that these repairs and inspections will be done right.

    Delta likes keeping older planes on the property since they’re generally fully paid for. Even if they’re slightly less fuel efficient, the amortization of their costs has already made them more econonomical to operate than newer types, in most cases. This isn’t greed; this is an airline being run prudently to maximize the value of its physical capital. Delta isn’t always the first in line to be a new type’s launch customer for similar reasons – launch customers are the first to experience a new type’s maintenance and reliability issues, so flying somewhat older aircraft that have already gone through teething periods avoids this problem. Their Mad Dogs are still flying smoothly, and their later Mad Dogs actually aren’t all that ancient. They’re safe to fly and about as solid and bulletproof as any jetliner out there with proper maintenance and TLC. When the time comes to retire them, probably through a combination of cycles and the spare parts supply drying up, Delta will do so.

    I really thinks just need to calm the heck down. Plenty of planes have suffered significant damage and been safely returned to service.

  20. Though the headline may be TECHNICALLY correct, we do not know if they plan to put this plane back into regular passenger service at this point. Repairing and flying back to ATL does not indicate any such plan.

    Let us know when it moves to the next step.

  21. “Similarly, they shouldn’t be flying ancient MD-88 and MD-99 planes.”


    You sure know what you are talking about. Must be another airline’s jealous employee. Nah, they would be smart enough to know there is no such thing as an MD-99 airliner.

  22. “DL is a greedy, corrupt airline who got a sweetheart deal with the equally corrupt Atlanta city hall, and now is running a monopoly out or Atlanta airport…”

    @Sam, preach!

  23. Former structures (pressurization and safety equipment specialty) mechanic on 737’s here, the plane can be fixed to new. Unlike unibody vehicles, the frames are designed in a way to sustain a significant amount of flex. If you watch the wings from the runway into takeoff you will watch the ends lift 1-3’ on average sometimes more based on length and tip design (flat ER style wings have more pronounced flex). Based on the above photos of the panel protrusion, some pressurization seals may have been impacted, however, that is easily replaced and high altitude aircraft like the B-52 look dimpled far worse than this 757 on the ground because pressurization pushes the panels out when at altitude per design.

    TL;DR – Former 737-800ER structures (pressurization and safety equipment mechanic) would fly on this plane, body flex is engineered into the frame and planes are not unibody, everything can be replaced.

  24. Quantas Airlines once had a 747 damaged so severely from a hard landing and runway overrun that to uphold its reputation of no hull loss, Quantas spent more than the cost of a new 747 to repair it. That plane, Quantas 1, had far more damage than this one, and Quantas flew it for 12 more years.

  25. Ed is the CEO of Delta for a good reason. He knows what he is doing and how to make an airline run and profit. I’m sure this 757 is going to be airworthy otherwise they wouldnt use it. Stick to your business and leave Delta to the people that know what’s best.

  26. Who says it’s ever going to go back into passenger service? Perhaps they are ferrying back to assess, keep for parts or dispose of in a more cost-effective manner – I’m sure they were incurring cost having sat at that airport. Could be a myriad of Delta’s own corporate or operational reasons that, frankly, we don’t have any insight into.

  27. I was on the flight and the pilot on my return flight gave several of us a detailed description of what happened along with plans to repair the aircraft.

    I agree with what the other passengers shared. I’ve flown A LOT and this was easily the roughest landing I’ve experienced. I believe nobody spoke about it because it was very early and passengers were groggy… we may also have been waiting for a pilot to tell us what just happened. But it was also quickly clear nobody was hurt and we deplaned as usual.

    Itinital thoughts were the plane would be scrapped but they decided to repair after inspection. Apparently they are going to completely strip the exterior, make additional repairs, and reskin it. Total cost around $3 million.

    I wouldn’t jump at the idea of getting back on that bird but recent headlines on the 757 aside, it is still the safest way to travel.

  28. I never doubted that the airplane “could” be repaired. I just never thought it “would” be worth the money. Oh well.

  29. I noticed that even though the schedule is open for the JFK to PDL flights for most of next summer, it gives an error message that there are no seats available when you try to book. I had already purchased flights for next July, but I highly doubt that all of the flights through August are booked solid. I have heard nothing from Delta, but now I am concerned they might be scrapping this route because of the issue with the 757.

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