A Look at Delta Air Lines Fleet and Buying Nine MD-90s


Delta Air Lines MD-90 (N908DA) in older livery with Mt. Rainier in the background.


Delta Air Lines has a very diverse fleet of aircraft. Delta currently flies the Boeing 737-700 and -800, the Airbus A319 and A320, the DC-9, MD-88 and has been adding additional MD-90s — which all compete with each other. A while back Delta announced they would be replacing their older DC-9s with newer aircraft and at first I assumed it might be with Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s in a move to simplify their fleet by getting rid of the entire DC-9/MD-80 family, but it looks like they are going to upgrade it. Why would Delta buy MD-90s instead of Boeing 737s or Airbus A320s? I think there are a few reasons.

The biggest is cost. To pick up a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 it is going to cost a heck of a lot more than purchasing a used MD-90. Yes, Delta will have to pay to re-do the interiors and the planes won’t be as fuel efficient as a brand new model, but the over all costs will still remain lower. Delta has a huge maintenance facility in Atlanta and would most likely continue to work on DC-9/MD-80 aircraft from other airlines, even if they got rid of their own fleet.

The MD-90s allows Delta to back fill the DC-9s and save additional time before completing an entire fleet renewal program. Delta just announced buying nine MD-90s from Japan Airlines (JAL) and they hope to find more in the future. Delta’s President Ed Bastian stated at a December investor presentation that Delta hopes to purchase about 50 MD-90 aircraft over the next two years.

Since Delta is looking to get so many MD-90 aircraft, could it make sense to purchase some Boeing 717s which are based off the MD-90? Maybe. Recently Southwest purchased AirTran, which has over 85 Boeing 717s. Currently, Southwest only has a fleet of Boeing 737s, it could be possibly they would want to be rid of the 717s. The problem is that Southwest is locked into a contract with Boeing for the aircraft and it is unlikely Boeing would want to let them out.  If Delta plans to purchase a significant amount of new Boeing aircraft in the future, it could be negotiated to let Southwest out of their contract early (with Southwest’s approval, of course), allowing Delta to take control of the 717s.

“The MD-90 is a cost-effective aircraft that helps us more efficiently maintain our flying levels as we retire regional jets and DC-9s, so the additions won’t increase our capacity.” Delta spokesperson Trebor Banstetter told AirlineReporter.com. “We’ll continue to look for opportunities to acquire used MD-90s in the future as we retire DC-9s and smaller jets.”

Either way, I like the ‘ol MD-80 maddog family. I hear so many people complain about the aircraft and sure if you are sitting in the back by the engines, they can be a bit annoying. However, I love that 2-3 layout and the sound of their engines at full throttle during takeoff. I am glad to see an American airline will be keeping the maddog alive for years to come.

Image: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

#SouthwestAirlines #DeltaAirLines #MD88 #MD90 #Boeing717

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