Why Delta Won’t Retire The Boeing 757

Delta introduced the Boeing 757 in the 1980s and in 2024 still flies over 100 of the series, but why doesn't it want to retire a type that is continuing to age. Is the Airbus A321neo the perfect replacement for it or was Boeing's decision to not move forward with the NMA detrimental to their long-term vision with the 757 and narrowbody flying?

Delta flies over 100 Boeing 757s and introduced the series in the 1980s, but why does it remain reluctant to retire the aircraft?

The Boeing 757 and Delta

Delta Air Lines is one of the world’s largest carriers and one of the three biggest airlines in the United States. Thanks to its longstanding history, the airline has navigated the ups and downs of the industry and remained a persistent option for travellers worldwide.

Across the airline’s history, many aircraft types have worked their way through the doors. However, many would argue that its operations with the Boeing 757 have been some of the more fascinating.

The airline first welcomed this narrowbody jet into its fleet in 1984 to replace the 727, which had been flying for some time.

To comprehend why Delta remains hesitant to retire the Boeing 757 but also adores it, a thorough analysis must be conducted on its relationship with the series.

Delta’s Affection for the Boeing 757

The Boeing 757 has a sweet spot, with several operational capabilities that have seen it succeed across high-profile short and medium-haul routes.

The 757’s range has allowed Delta to connect destinations that might have been challenging with other aircraft in its fleet and at a reasonable price.

Meanwhile, the capacity of the 757 has made it easy for Delta and other major airlines to fill. While reliability has been high, it’s been a faithful servant for the airline across the many highs and lows of the industry.

When introducing the 757, the realisation was that the aircraft was substantially better off in terms of fuel efficiency over the previous 727. Delta forecasted that the efficiency was nearly 50% better across the board than that of the 727.

The relatively short period between the 727s’ and 757s’ introduction perfectly highlighted how much technology had changed for the better.

No Boeing NMA Replacement

Delta has, thus, flown the Boeing 757 for several decades and as a result, the airline has built a close relationship with the aircraft type.

Ultimately, there are several reasons why an airline might want to avoid parting ways with a type. But, one of those for Delta is the lack of a direct replacement for the 757.

This has been a problem for several decades, but analysts would argue it is more than present now. Delta finds itself in a grey area. The 757’s unique combination of capacity, range, and efficiency remains unmatched perfectly by other aircraft types, leaving a void that no other aircraft can seamlessly fill.

While the word “perfect” gets thrown around, there have ultimately been adequate replacements at several airlines for the 757. However, others believe they’re yet to find the ideal replacement.

Boeing’s decision not to move ahead with their NMA ultimately meant Delta had to rethink its future massively with the 757. If Boeing had proceeded, analysts predicted Delta would’ve ordered big for the type.

Despite commitments to the 737 MAX, Delta is slowly moving away from Boeing and towards European plane maker Airbus as its needs change to meet industry demands.

The A321neo Dilemma

Despite a struggle to source the perfect plane to replace the 757, Delta has committed in sheer numbers to the Airbus A321neo series.

While this order will help propel Delta into the next era, executives at the airline have been careful not to overestimate the A321neos capabilities and what they’ll do for the airline, alongside highlighting the inability to like-for-like replace the 757.

The A321neo, with its efficiency, is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for the major airline. While some can view the airline’s stance as picky, the realisation is that airlines must adapt to the changing industry.

Fully Paid Off 757s

Beyond operational considerations, finances influenced Delta’s decision to keep the Boeing 757 in service.

Delta’s 757s are fully paid off, alleviating the burden of acquisition costs that accompany introducing a new aircraft type or acquiring aircraft through a lease.

While new aircraft types present great opportunities for Delta, just like the A321neo, the ability to generally fly these planes for a little longer has its benefits.

Additionally, there are maintenance factors to consider alongside spare parts. Delta is currently benefitting from the 757 operations, but there will be a time when the series doesn’t work.

Per analysts, the 757 has the best cost available per seat mile of any other aircraft in the narrowbody fleet. It thus harbours a lot of appeal for the Delta to continue flying long into the future.

Looking Ahead

So, looking ahead, the Boeing 757 will continue to act as a primary workhorse for the airline within the industry.

Delta has outlined plans to retain the plane to the 2030s, with retirements slowly occurring. However, that still gives Delta much time to enjoy operating the series.

Delta still flies over 100 units from the 757 series, and the aircraft type can be seen right across the United States flying from their major operational hub and bases.

The 757, even once it departs, will remain an iconic and integral part of the company’s history.

Daniel Fowkes
31 Dec 2023
· Aircraft 
· Airlines 

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  1. Has Delta thought for grabbing the parked 757’s in those retirement centers like Roswell and the like? There must be some good ones still left!

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