Say hello a freshly painted Delta 717! Photo Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Say hello a freshly-painted Delta Boeing 717! Photos: Delta Air Lines

Two months ago a number of folks broke news that the much-anticipated Delta Air Lines Boeing 717-200 had finally started showing up in reservation systems. For aviation enthusiasts, it’s an exciting time when an airline brings on a new aircraft type, especially one like the 717. The 717 holds a special place in many hearts for a number of reasons, chiefly because it’s an ultra-modern descendant of the Douglas DC-9s and MD-80s which have a cult following with pilots and AvGeeks alike.

In 2011, Southwest Airlines acquired AirTran, a 717 launch partner who also happened to fly the largest fleet of 717s in the world. Aviation enthusiasts questioned whether Southwest would go against their all-Boeing 737 business model that had served them so well over the decades. Much to the surprise of many aviation industry analysts and insiders, Southwest announced they would indeed incorporate the 717 into their fleet.  However, those plans never came to fruition. In 2012, Southwest and Delta announced a sweetheart deal which would allow Delta to take possession of the former AirTran birds, allowing them to retire a number of older DC/MD variants and giving Southwest the ability to maintain fleet uniformity.

After digging around on Delta.com, I confirmed the first scheduled 717 flight was supposed to be 2343 on 9/19 from ATL to EWR. I had already booked a mini-vacation to the NYC area for that weekend, so the timing simply could not have been better. I almost canceled my outbound leg and booked this flight instead…almost. Understanding that new equipment is often subject to last minute changes,  I decided a call to Delta was in order.

Looking good in the new livery! Notice the slightly larger typeface. Photo Courtesy Delta Air Lines.

Looking good in the new livery. Notice the slightly larger typeface. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Contacting Delta to confirm the inaugural details seemed prudent, if only to verify what I was seeing on their website and if the AvGeek community’s speculation held water. Better yet, I wanted to get assurance that there was a reasonable degree of certainty that 2343 on 9/19 would indeed be served by a 717. Sadly, I never heard back, so I assumed that they weren’t confident in the date and I decided not to book.

Not long after, the inaugural flight was pushed back a week, and then pushed back again by more than a month. According to a Tweet by @AirlineRoute, the inaugural is now scheduled for 11/1, which is a far cry from the original date.

Brand new interior with 2x2 up front and the 2x3 in back. I bet this bird comes with the iconic "new plane smell" too! Photo courtesy Delta Air Lines.

Brand new interior with 2×2 up front and the 2×3 in back. I bet this bird comes with the iconic “new plane smell” too. Photo: Delta Air Lines

At the moment there are still a lot of unknowns around Delta’s new 717 service. The airline has been incredibly (and unusually) tight-lipped on the topic. So rather than focus on what we don’t know, I thought it fitting to recap what we do know:

  • Delta has committed to leasing/sub-leasing all 88 AirTran 717s from Southwest.
  • Some of the planes are owned by Southwest through AirTran, but the vast majority (78) are leased from Boeing Capital Corporation, BCC.
  • The sublease of the 78 planes owned by BCC matches AirTran’s prior terms and extends it by 7 years.
  • The first 717 to wear Delta’s widget livery is cn 55069 / ln 5019 which was originally delivered to TWA in 2000.
  • Judging from photos of the recently re-painted plane, it seems Delta is maintaining the legacy AirTran registrations which makes sense, since there is no real transfer of ownership occurring here.
  • The plane pictured here carries the registry of N935AT and is just under 13 years old.
  • The 717 was originally designed by McDonnell Douglas as the MD-95. Boeing bought MD right before the first MD-95 began trials and it was quickly renamed the 717.
  • For now, the inaugural seems to be scheduled for 11/1. A call to Delta to confirm was not returned so we really can’t be sure.
  • The 717s have brand-new interiors, but continue the 2×2 and 2×3 layouts seen with AirTran and on the much older Delta DC-9 variants that they will be replacing.

I’m excited to see one of my favorite planes get a new lease on life with a strong carrier like Delta. Let’s hope that the November 1 date holds.

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - LEE'S SUMMIT, MO. JL joined AirlineReporter in 2012 and has since become one of our most tenured and prolific writers. His passions include catalyzing AvGeek passion in others, spending too much time on Twitter, and frequent travel. While he's always looking for the next big adventure, home is with his growing AvGeek family in Lee’s Summit, MO, a suburb of Kansas City. Email: [email protected]

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6 Comments

I’m glad that Delta invested a few bucks to refurbish those airplanes; the interiors were getting a bit tired. That said, the B717/MD-95 is a strong, reliable airplane, one build on a solid background. While others may be more efficient, the 717 bridges the gap in Delta’s fleet between the BIG airplanes the smaller regional jets that they must reduce due to pilot contract issues. With 88 frames headed into their fleet, the service entry delay may well be related to crew training and having to write an entirely new set of SOPs to Delta and FAA standards before they can fly revenue. And… since staffing requires multiple crews for each of the 88 airplanes (3.5 – 4.5 depending upon how the airplanes are used.), a boatload of Delta First Officers can upgrade to Captain a bit earlier than they had expected.
Personally, I’ve never liked the DC-9 series. Just like the old 727s, unless one rides at the pointy end, the noise factor is horrible. Still, it is a reliable and well-proven series that has served the industry well. I doubt that Delta will keep them for more than 10 years, but in the interim they squeeze every possible revenue hour from these airplanes. They got a great buy on a substantial fleet, one that will hold them over until more of the much newer airplanes come into service.
Yes David, I’ve been mute for several months. I don’t like leading the list. OTOH, I am **seriously impressed** by the changes and improvements you have made in the last year. The writing is professional and their is a copy editor someplace in your group. It shows and it is appreciated. In time, those improvements will expand AR’s opportunities and access as well as enhancing the value of your site. Congratulations! [Mute Mode now=ON].
C.

Great insight, thanks for commenting, Cook! 🙂

Kind of cool that they operate the first generation of the aircraft (DC-9) and the most modern generation (717).

Agreed! Fun to see the new generation within the same line to be the ones replacing the DC-9-30/50s

Just flew ATL-CLE and CLE-ATL aboard a new B717-200! Windows were new, everything was new, new, new. Seat 2D going up and 3A on back to ATL. LOVED it!

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