- Delta Air Lines has been flying the Boeing 757 for 39 years, making it one of the preferred jets in its fleet.
- The Boeing 757 was chosen by Delta as a replacement for the Boeing 727 for short and medium routes due to its improved fuel efficiency and capacity.
- Delta still has a significant number of Boeing 757 aircraft in its fleet, including both the standard 757-200 and the longer 757-300 models.
The Boeing 757 is one of Delta Air Lines' preferred jets, and the Atlanta-based carrier has been putting its trust in the narrowbody for 39 years. You may well have seen the SkyTeam member's 757s on your travels, but do you know why it began flying the type? Here is a look at why Delta took on the 757 in the first place.
A change in the market
When Delta Air Lines entered the jet race in the late 1950s, company founder C.E. Woolman understood that there were going to be tough times in the years ahead. The airline experimented with several different planes in the following decades as it got to grips with the new generation of aviation. The Delta Flight Museum shares that Woolman told Aviation Week the following in January 1957:
"We are buying airplanes that haven't yet been fully designed with millions of dollars we don't have, and are going to operate them off airports that are too small, in an air traffic control system that is too slow, and we must fill them with more passengers than we have ever carried before."
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Moreover, Woolman expressed that he and Delta were up for the challenges that were going to come as part of the tight competition in the industry. The company had survived the Great Depression and the Second World War, so the businessman knew that the next struggle would pass. According to the Delta Flight Museum, Woolman added the following in September 1959:
"Each of the many forward steps in aviation which have occurred since your company first began passenger service 30 years ago has been accompanied by its own unique problems, and the forthcoming jet era will be no exception. Delta personnel, experience, and equipment enable us to face the future with confidence, and we look forward to continuing full participation in this new chapter in aviation history."
Finding its feet
Subsequently, Delta Air Lines went on to experiment with several different types of jet-powered commercial aircraft. The Douglas DC-8 and the Convair 880 were the first two to arrive at the carrier's facilities. These planes helped the company get its feet off the ground in the jet world, but the DC-9 soon joined them in 1965. This model was acquired to perform jet services for routes of 500 miles or less.
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However, the stakes rose once again with the widebody craze that started with the Boeing 747's passenger services introduction in 1970. Delta Air Lines was the first operator with three different twin-aisle designs in its fleet, as it held the 747, the Douglas DC-10, and the Lockheed L-1011 simultaneously in 1973. Before taking on the 757, the firm also took on Boeing 727, 737, and 767 family jets.
The airline turned to the 727 for its ability to land on smaller airport runways and fly short-medium range journeys. However, Boeing also designed the 757 to replace this narrowbody on these short and medium routes. Delta first commenced operations with the 727 in 1972 after its merger with Northeast Airlines. In the following year, it also took on more units.
Being the first Boeing narrowbody flown by the carrier, Delta became more familiar with the manufacturer's jets and knew it could trust it for future upgrades.
Over a decade later, Delta received its first Boeing 757 delivery. The aircraft bore the registration N602DL, and it arrived in Georgia on November 5th, 1984, to mark the beginning of a long-term relationship between the airline and the type.
Delta highlights how this 757-200's wings and engines came with modern technology to give the best fuel mileage of any standard-body plane in the few years before its arrival at the company. Moreover, on a 500-mile flight, the jet provided approximately 45% better fuel efficiency than the 727, which is pictured below.
The aircraft could also fit 187 passengers onboard, which was more than the 148 that the 727 could service. Thanks to its glass cockpit, it also needed fewer pilots than its predecessor, with two on the flight deck, rather than three.
Delta launched the two Pratt & Whitney PW2037 engines that came with the arrival of its first unit. These new additions were more efficient than the earlier JT10D Pratt & Whitney engines that were previously being offered on the jet.
Overall, Delta's President and CEO at the time, Ron Allen, said that these overhauls were worth waiting for. The new wing design saw the fitting of double-slotted trailing-edge flaps, as well as full-span leading-edge slats. These factors made takeoffs with a full cabin possible, while simultaneously needing less runway space.
These modern revisions enabled Delta Air Lines' Boeing 757-200s to cruise at higher altitudes than the 727s that had preceded them. In turn, this provided more significant fuel savings and the use of higher airways. In terms of performance, the 757 could hit speeds of 530mph and had a range of 2,302 nautical miles. Meanwhile, the extended-range version could travel up to 3927 nautical miles.
Finding the best fit
Altogether, with the jet age still in its relative infancy, it took some years for Delta Air Lines to be able to find and stick to jet-powered commercial aircraft designs that it liked. As we have seen earlier in this particular article, several different jetliner designs came and went before the arrival of the Boeing 757 at Delta.
However, the carrier has shown its commitment to this narrowbody, with it still making up a significant portion of its fleet. Delta would also go on to operate the stretched-fuselage 757-300 model. It has now been almost 39 years since the first passenger service with a Delta 757 on December 1st, 1984, which was an operation from Atlanta, Georgia, to Dayton, Ohio, via Birmingham, Alabama.
Delta's 757 fleet today
According to ch-aviation.com, Delta Air Lines still has 127 Boeing 757 family aircraft on its books today. The majority of these are examples of the standard 757-200, with 111 present at an average age of 26.8 years old (compared to a fleet-wide mean figure of 15.1 years). Data from aeroLOPA shows that Delta has four different two-class configurations for the type, with between 168 and 199 seats.
Additionally, Delta remains a rare operator of the longer 757-300 model, with 16 examples still in its fleet today. These aircraft are a little younger than the carrier's 757-200s, at an average age of 20.6 years old, and 15 are currently active, with the other presently undergoing maintenance. These aircraft all feature the same seating configuration, which has 24 business and 210 economy class seats.
What do you make of Delta Air Lines' relationship with the Boeing 757? Have you ever flown on one of these aircraft? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
- Delta is not keen on an equal split compromise either. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
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