Delta To Retire 777 Fleet As Demand For Travel Plummets Amid Coronavirus

May 14, 2020
Originally published on May 14, 2020 2:35 pm

Citing the ongoing economic impacts caused by the coronavirus, Delta Air Lines said Thursday that it is removing the Boeing 777 and other older, higher-maintenance jets from its fleet in order to slash costs.

The move to retire the 18 wide-bodied 777 planes, considered a workhorse for the airline in its "ultra-long-haul markets," will take place at the end of the year. It is also a signal Delta does not anticipate strong demand for international travel in the near future.

"We're making strategic, cost-effective changes to our fleet to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while also ensuring Delta is well-positioned for the recovery on the backside of the crisis," Gil West, Delta's chief operating officer, said in a statement.

Delta said it plans to use Airbus A330s and A350-900 series jets, which are more fuel-efficient, in its long-haul flights when demand for international travel resumes.

"Retiring a fleet as iconic as the 777 is not an easy decision," Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a memo to employees with the subject line "Protecting Our Future."

He added that retiring the fleet will provide the company with "significant cost savings" and that chief financial goal for the remainder of the year is to "reduce our cash burn to zero."

"Delta is currently burning about $50 million every day, and steps like this help us stem the bleeding, in an effort to safeguard Delta jobs and our future. Delta went into this crisis in a position of strength, and this will be an important step to ensure we remain in a relatively strong industry position as demand recovers," Bastian wrote.

Delta technicians seal an engine of a Boeing 777 in Birmingham, Ala. They also close off sensors and cover windows to prevent damage during long-term storage.
Russell Lewis / NPR

The airline expects that for the next two to three years, it will be operating a smaller network operation as a result in the reduction in consumer demand.

The airline also said that in addition to planned expedited retirement of MD-88 and MD-90 fleets in June, it has grounded more than 650 jets in order to adjust for reduced customer demand.

The rapid spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has severely crippled the airline industry, as millions of passengers have elected not to fly during the pandemic.

Delta and other U.S. commercial carriers received more than $25 billion in federal funding intended help the industry from widespread layoffs.

As NPR has reported, the stimulus funds must "exclusively be used for the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries and benefits," through at least the end of September.

The federal grants also stipulate airlines cannot buy back stock or pay stock dividends through September 2021.

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