Last month, Delta Air Lines placed an order for 50 wide-body Airbus aircraft to replace its fleet of Boeing 747-400s and some 767-300ERs (If Delta Doesn't Buy New Jets, Then Why Did It Just Place A $14 Billion Order With Airbus?).
Delta has an active fleet of 13 Boeing 747-400s, all of which came from the 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines. (Another five are in storage.) Northwest was the launch customer for the 747-400 and flew the first revenue flight of the 747-400, a short Minneapolis to Phoenix flight on 9 February 1989, the 20th anniversary of the 747's first flight.
Looking at the last two weeks, Delta flew the 747-400 on just six daily routes, three from Detroit to Asia and Japan, two between Honolulu and Japan, and one between Tokyo and Manila. In addition, a handful of military charters were flown plus there were a few substitutions on flights from Tokyo which normally operate with smaller aircraft. Once the home port for Northwest's 747-400s, Minneapolis saw only smaller Delta planes.
Northern winter is a time of lower demand for most international travel so frequencies are reduced and smaller aircraft replace larger aircraft such as the 747 while the larger aircraft undergo heavy maintenance so they are ready for the peak summer season. That effect is apparent in this schedule, which does not require all 13 aircraft, and indeed one aircraft (N665US) has not flown for a month. It will be interesting to revisit this study in six months when the fleet should be more fully used.
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Karl L. Swartz.
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