Back at the end of October Delta launched its first flights on the Boeing 717s they acquired from AirTran / Southwest. On October 25th, Delta’s first 717 jets configured in a 110 seat layout flew passengers from Atlanta (ATL) to Newark (EWR). By the end of 2015, Southwest will have turned over its entire fleet of 88 Boeing 717s to Delta. Adam Levine-Weinberg from The Fool notes that:
The 717 is likely to become a workhorse of the Delta fleet for the next 10-15 years, particularly for shorter flights. This fleet could be a competitive advantage for Delta for years to come. Any other carrier that wanted to replicate Delta’s strategy of replacing 50-seat jets with small narrowbodies would have to invest billions of dollars to acquire planes in that size range from Embraer or Bombardier.
While the 717 carries the Boeing name, it was originally designed by McDonnell Douglas and marketed as the MD-95. The 717 was meant as a replacement option for the popular DC-9, a small narrowbody plane that typically had 100-130 seats, depending on the variant. However, over time, the evolution of the airline business has led airline executives to prefer larger aircraft. Furthermore, Boeing and Airbus both offer aircraft families that cover the whole range of narrowbody sizes (roughly 100 seats to 200 seats). By flying planes from the same aircraft family, an airline can save on crew training and maintenance costs while still enjoying the benefits of using different-sized aircraft for different markets. These factors conspired to undermine sales of the Boeing 717: only 156 were ever delivered.
Delta and the Boeing 717 are a natural fit for each other. First, Delta still has a small fleet of 16 DC-9s that are roughly 35 years old. The rapid arrival of 717s will allow Delta to retire all of these dated aircraft by early January, taking advantage of the 717’s 24% better fuel efficiency. While Delta’s 717s may not be “new”, on average they are more than 20 years younger than the DC-9s they are replacing. Second, Delta has been anxious to reduce its… KEEP READING BELOW