The slow retirement of the 757 continues. Delta announced an order for 30 A321 NEO (New Engine Option) aircraft and 10 A330’s. The A330 is a solid performer, a little bit better than the 767 while also being cheaper and faster to acquire than the 787. Nothing earth shattering with this A330 order. The A321’s are news. Delta inherited an Airbus fleet (A319, A320, A330) when they purchased Northwest a few years ago; previously Delta was an Boeing (McDonald Douglas included) operation. It looks like the narrow body fleet might be transitioning to Airbus for longer routes.
Delta MD at Denver
Delta is a strange airline. Most carriers focus on having a single manufacturer and fuel burn when buying aircraft. A single manufacturer, at least for narrow body and wide body fleets simplifies maintenance, pilot training, and operational complexities. Fuel burn is usually an airlines largest expense and fuel prices fluctuate making it difficult to estimate future costs. Delta likes cheap airframes because they are buying 717’s and MD-80 series jets on the used market for next to scrap value. These jets burn more fuel and take more maintenance per flight hour, but the math works out because you can buy 8 or more 717’s for less than on new 737 (educated guess, purchase prices are not disclosed). Delta seems to be doing fine managing their hodgepodge fleet, so 30 new A321’s (same cockpit in all the A320 series jets and 90%+ parts commonality).
Airbus Engine Detail
I also suspect that the A321’s will replace the 757 jets running all but the longest range flights. The 757 is a 1970’s design (one of the best decades for commercial airlines, see Concorde), but works great today. The plane is large (182 seats), has a tremendous range (4,705 miles), and has no direct replacement. Boeings 737-900ER has a 1,835 mile shorter range and 10 fewer seats. The A321 seats 183 and has a 1,250 mile shorter range. The A321 NEO though still seats 183, but the range is boosted to only a 750 mile shortfall. The fuel burn is also significantly less. This makes the A321 NEO close enough to the 757 to cover the same routes (transatlantic crossings excluded) and a significantly reduces cost per seat mile (cost to fly one seat one mile). Hawaiian Airlines announced a big A321 NEO order that will open up lighter density routes from the west coast. US Airways isn’t announcing A321 NEO service from PHX yet, the 757 is still best for that route.
I like the 757, it has a cool look, comfortable feel, and the highest ratio of first class seats to coach seats for narrow body jets (best upgrade chances). I also enjoy boarding through the second door and turning left for first class, but the 757’s days are numbered. United plans on replacing it with the 737-900ER on all but PS, transatlantic, and 757-300 (stretched 216 seat version) routes. I enjoy flying the 757 and I’ll enjoy it a little bit more next time I fly it.