We’ve heard a lot about airlines retiring their older planes (like Boeing 747s) or huge jumbos (Airbus A380s), but the Boeing 777 - a workhorse of airlines around the globe - has seemed pretty safe. Until now.

Delta is retiring all its Boeing 777s in the next seven months

Delta caught us a little off guard with today’s surprise announcement that it will retire its fleet of 18 Boeing 777 aircraft by the end of the year as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Delta is (was?) the world’s biggest airline by some metrics (including revenue and the value of its assets).

The Boeing 777-200 first entered the Delta fleet in 1999 and grew to 18 aircraft, including 10 of the long-range 777-200LR variant, which arrived in 2008.

Using those planes, Delta was able to open up truly long-range flights, including routes like Atlanta to Johannesburg, and Los Angeles to Sydney.

Even since demand for passenger travel reduced in recent months, the 777 fleet has been the workhorse of Delta’s worldwide cargo, mail and US citizen repatriation operations. Since April, it has carried thousands of US citizens from destinations including Mumbai, Manila and Sydney back to the States.

Delta wants to simplify its fleet, and fly more cost-efficient planes

Delta says it wants to accelerate a strategy to simplify and modernise its fleet, while continuing to operate newer, more cost-efficient aircraft.

As Gil West, Delta’s chief operating officer, says:

“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. The 777 has been a reliable part of Delta’s success since it joined the fleet in 1999 and because of its unique operating characteristics, opened new non-stop, ultra-long-haul markets that only it could fly at that time.”

For long-haul flights, Delta will now rely on its fleet of long-haul, next generation Airbus A350-900s, which burn 21 per cent less fuel per seat than the 777s they will replace. It also has A330s and Boeing 767s.

Last month, Delta announced plans to accelerate the retirement of its MD-88 and MD-90 fleets to June. The airline has parked more than 650 mainline and regional aircraft in order to adjust capacity in the face of reduced customer demand.

Delta said more details surrounding the timing of the 777’s exit from the fleet will be disclosed at a later date.

Summing up

It was pretty surprising to hear Delta announce it is retiring its entire fleet of 18 Boeing 777 planes - iconic aircraft which allowed the airline to open up long-range destinations like Johannesburg and Sydney.

It makes you wonder whether other airlines will follow Delta’s lead and scrap their Boeing 777s in favour of newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft.

Are you sad to see Delta ditch the 777?