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.
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.
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.