Delta Air Lines' Route to Profits: Well-Oiled Older Planes


Jun 5, 2010
Very interesting and well written article in the Journal today:

ATLANTA—A jetliner parked in a cavernous hangar here boasts a gleaming paint job, 160 pristine blue leather seats and a new-airplane smell. But this latest addition to the Delta Air Lines Inc. fleet isn't new.

Not by a long shot. The twin-engine MD-90, acquired from <a class="companyRollover link11unvisited" href="">China Southern Airlines Co., is more than 13 years old. It is one of 49 used McDonnell Douglas MD-90s Delta is rehabbing after scooping them up from global airlines that were thrilled to get rid of a plane that no longer is built by a manufacturer that long ago was taken over by Boeing Co.
Most large carriers prefer fuel-sipping new planes with the latest high-tech gadgetry. But Delta, which has one of the oldest fleets in the U.S., is making a habit of succeeding by zigging when its rivals zag.

that is the same text... the WSJ article had some graphics.
The WSJ provides free access to most articles via Google news.... just type in the exact name of the article in Google news.

specific to the article, it is a good article... but they fail to note that the M90 and 717 actually have as good or better fuel burn as other "new technology" aircraft in their class - but w/ lower ownership costs. Airlines have long been heavily indebted companies and that has just been accepted as a fact of life in the industry. Now, DL may succeed at providing the same transportation for similar operating costs but alot less debt... and as in many aspects of life, that could make a big difference.

The most accurate description of why DL succeeds is in saying that DL zigs when others zag.... and defies the logic of the industry. DL is the subject of alot of internet chatter regarding its strategy w/ a majority of the people saying that DL won't succeed because they don't do things the way everyone else does.
Perhaps it is precisely because the legacy airline industry is so dysfunctional and largely money-losing that anyone succeeds at blowing up the paradigms has a reasonable chance of succeeding.
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Richard learned a valuable lesson with NWA when we kpt the DC-9 flying by overhauling and doing in-house major aging aircraft work on them. It saved NWA big money. We did it by hiring about 300 or so ex-EAL mechanics post strike at new hire wages back in the late 80's. They grew up with the DC-9 and were able to overhaul them in ATL at our old Southern Hangar there with no learning curve. It was a proud time for us all. I have never seen aircraft taken down to such small peices outside of a manufacturing facility and brought back to life. I was proud to sign those maintenance releases and go on the test flights.
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DL had a common mindset with NW about buying used aircraft - DL picked up 10 or so used L1011s from EA, a bunch from PA, AC etc....
but NW probably taught the industry alot about how to make older aircraft last a good long time.
I think it is precisely because the DC9 family of aircraft last so long that DL is willing to invest so much in used M90s and 717s.

I think there were be alot of airlines that will be forced to rethink the necessity of buying so many new aircraft in the name of fleet commonality and a young fleet.

NW also tolerated alot of fleet "incompatibility" buying D9s and 10s from lots of sources.... yet still didn't mind buying new aircraft like the 320 and 330 when that was necessary to do so.
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The hardest thing to get used to on the different DC-9 types was the small galley door on the ex-EAL aircraft. Head knockers after being used to a full size door. Also, some of them had the -30 with a plug door instead of the aft stair. Also, I worked on the fwd air stairs quite a bit. It was an engineering feat, and a mechanical nightmare. I can only imagine what it is like on Air Force One.