Delta Air Lines Begins Boeing 747 Retirement

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A Delta Boeing 747-400 “smokes the mains” on arrival in Atlanta | Photo via Ryan Ewing

As oil prices rise, many airlines are beginning to or have already retired old, inefficient aircraft. Air New Zealand retired its final Boeing 747 aircraft last month, replacing it with a fleet of seven 777s. Lately, many Asian airlines have followed suit to stay in line with their competitors. China Eastern Airlines and China Airlines (Taiwan) recently took delivery of their first 777-300ERs.

During Delta’s earnings call on Thursday, CEO Richard Anderson reinforced the schedule of when their Boeing 747s will leave the fleet. This comes as no surprise: Delta will accelerate the retirement of its 747 fleet as part of its Pacific network restructuring.

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A Delta Boeing 747-400 is catered at the gate in Atlanta | Photo via Ryan Ewing

“Delta’s accelerated phase-out of the 747’s comes as the company shifts some of its capacity on trans-Atlantic flights to routes between the USA and Asia,” said Ed Bastian, Delta Air Lines President.

Four 747s will leave the fleet every year until 2017. Three have already been parked this year. The days of the 747-400 in the world’s airline fleets are numbered. While the new Boeing 747-8 is the most advanced 747 built, sales have been slow, and the program publicly deemed a failure. Only 4 passenger airlines have ordered the Intercontinental version. The freighter version holds slightly more promise, and Boeing officials still believe there is a future to be had.

The latest trend is to replace gas guzzling 4 engine aircraft with modern 2 engine aircraft. Between the Airbus A330 and the Boeing 777, which seat less people and burn less fuel, and can fly comparable distances; these factors have been the turning point for many airlines.

As Delta receives delivery of new A330s next year, their international system will see a reshuffle between 767s, existing A330s, 747s and 777s. The airline recently eliminated the domestic heavy tag ATL-LAX originally part of ATL-LAX-SYD, replacing it with a four city international swing; ATL-NRT-LAX-SYD-LAX-NRT-ATL. This will undoubtedly become more common as Delta has to accommodate the same number of routes with less aircraft until A330 deliveries balance out 747 retirement.

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