Aviation News

May 22, 2012

Delta Air Lines to Snatch Up AirTran’s Entire Boeing 717 Fleet

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An AirTran Boeing 717-200 (N950AT) wearing a special Little Debbie decal. (Photo by Cary Liao)

Delta Air Lines announced on Tuesday that it had reached a deal with Southwest Airlines to take delivery of all 88 Boeing 717 aircraft in the AirTran fleet should Delta’s pilots ratify a new collective bargaining agreement.

The planes, delivered to Southwest subsidiary AirTran Airways between 1999 and 2006, would replace Delta’s older McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jets as well as some of its 50-seat Bombardier CRJ aircraft. Delta’s overall capacity will not change.

Delta could also purchase up to 70 new 76-seat, dual-class jets under the new pilots agreement.

“These actions pave the way for us to restructure and upgauge our domestic fleet, which will lower our costs, provide more pilot jobs and improve the onboard experience for our customers,” said Delta CEO Richard Anderson in a statement. “The addition of the Boeing 717s, additional large regional jets and the planned replacement of 50-seat aircraft continue Delta’s commitment to operating an efficient, flexible domestic fleet that offers customers even more opportunities to upgrade to our First Class and Economy Comfort cabins.”

Delta pilots have five weeks to ratify the deal.

Southwest, which operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet, saw little benefit in keeping AirTran’s 717s after it took over the airline in 2011. Southwest would sublease the jets to Delta through Boeing’s finance arm, Boeing’s Capital Corp. Deliveries would begin in 2013 and stretch through 2015.

Unclear, however, remains Southwest plan to replace the capacity lost in selling nearly two-thirds of AirTran’s fleet.

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  • Interesting on many points:
    1) Southwest at one point said that they would be open to have up to 3 airplane models (when they got AirTran’s 717’s and commented on the Bombardier C-Series). Now that they’re back to one model, they might very well decide to fill the 100-140 seat niche with C-Series.
    2) If Delta can get this approved by the union, legacy carriers might just have a chance of survival; this definitely needs to happen if legacy carriers are going to survive given that 50-seat regional jets are not economically viable anymore. Airlines need to move to 70-110 seats.
    3) Delta is essentially saying it NEEDS a plane in the 110-seat category. Which is exactly the niche that the C-Series is going after. BIGGER than regional jets but smaller than the smaller A320/319 and 737-700 (or 737-7 MAX).
    I would say this totally validates the C-Series and could mean SouthWest and/or Delta could be looking at that plane in the 2016+ timeframe (first delivery of C-Series is next year and delivery spots are full into 2016). They could use their 717s for a while then replace them with newer planes.
    Very interesting indeed. I sure hope the unions will make this happen because it really is in everyone’s best interest (nobody wins if the company that owes money to your retirement fund goes belly up)… As we keep seeing lately…