The A350-900 can likely make the flight nonstop, but Delta opted for a slightly higher density than most other airlines. 16 hours would likely be stretching the limits of their aircraft. Delta has about 306 seats on their A350s, and the MTOW is 308 tons. The range of this would be around 8,000 miles, and assuming their flights are pretty full or achieve average load factors, the aircraft would not be able to make it since its 8400 miles. Sure, it can do Atlanta to Johannesburg since it’s an hour or 2 shorter, but with bad winds flying back, the route would be slightly outside of its range. The longest flight with a standard A359 is operated by Philippine Airlines from New York to Manila, which is 16 hours and blocked at 9 minutes longer than Johannesburg to Atlanta, but they operate this flight with a plane that has less seats than Delta.
If they really want to do the flight, they’d need to cut back on the seating capacity, or coordinate with Airbus on how to extend the aircraft’s range. Another possible solution would simply be getting the A359ULR, which is why I’m assuming that would be a good offer.
For sure, but keep in mind that the current block time is based on the 777-200LR which flies at M.84. The bump to M.85 is a negligible difference, but it adds up, especially with a >16h flight time. I saw that JFK-MNL is blocked at 16h30m for the June schedule, which compares to the current 77L block time for JNB-ATL of 16h50m on the Northern Winter/Southern Summer schedule, so the mission profiles are relatively similar.
The density difference is small, we are talking about 10 passengers between the Philippine 359 vs. the Delta 359. The main issue we have there is not really the payload, as the additional 1 tonne would present a minor fuel burn penalty, if any.
One factor that I’m seeing ignored is that the ULR variant has a deactivated front cargo hold. Would DL want to operate a sub-fleet of ~10 frames with an inoperative front cargo hold to potentially carry 10-15 more passengers on one route on bad wind days? Probably not. The planning flexibility and added cargo volume is likely worth more to Delta than carrying 10-more low-yielding passengers on a route that most likely prints money for them as is.
I wouldn’t really put it past them though to just make the offer, because a free upgrade is a free upgrade 🤷🏻♂️
I suppose Delta could also have some plans to make some ultra long hauls, perhaps Atlanta to Australia or something, I mean sure it would be out of left field, but there aren’t a lot of US Airlines reaching out very far. Some of United’s Singapore routes are up there, but the top tier of ultra long haul flights is definitely dominated by airlines outside the US despite more than half of the top ten going into the US, and I don’t see that changing…
There are a few things I want to speak to and unpack. The “free upgrade” is not without tradeoffs, the ULH has a deactivated front cargo hold, so Delta would be trading one type of flexibility (Cargo space) for another (range). I wouldn’t be surprised to see Delta push for another type of upgrade as I’m not sure if they would be willing to give up cargo space.
In terms of the lack of ULH flying from U.S. Carriers, I would propose that the lack of flight is not due to a lack of willingness but a lack of need. Keep in mind both UA and DL had a significant amount of operations in NRT up until a couple of years ago. There is no need to do point-to-point flights when you can flow everyone through the NRT scissor-hub between the hours of 16:00 and 19:00 local time. AA did not have a strong presence in Asia up until the mid-2010s especially when compared to DL and UA.
In addition, the United States is big, you can shave 5 hours from a flight by flying from a different coast. Foreign carriers do not have the luxury of relying on domestic connections. If they want to serve LAX, they are better off flying non-stop of LAX whereas UA/AA/DL have the ability to persuade people to make a short connection at JFK and vice versa. This reduces the amount of ULH (read: expensive) flying the Big 3 carriers have to do. That being said, they will fly ULH if the demand exists (see: UA’s EWR-HKG, DL’s ATL-JNB).
Over the past several years, things have changed, Delta closed their NRT hub (along with their NRT flight kitchen sniff), UA has scaled back their NRT-Asia operations to an extent, and AA has started to focus on Asia and started to develop new markets. New routes include UA’s SIN-SFO flight, AA’s DFW-HKG flight, and DL’s short-lived SEA-HKG flight. The Big 3 are dipping their toes into the ULH waters, but they will still prefer to connect passengers through a coastal hub unless there are some very compelling commercial arguments for the alternative.
If you look to the grand-scheme of things, Delta retiring their Boeing 777 aircraft was a smart decision, as opposed to them retiring their Boeing 757 & 767 aircraft.
As of now, Delta has a total of 205 Boeing 757s and 124 Boeing 767s. That’s quite a large number compared to the 18 Boeing 777-200ER (8 aircraft) and Boeing 777-200LR (10 aircraft). It only makes sense to retire the 777 as they can be replaced by the Airbus A350-900, which can fly most-to-all of the 777 operated routes. Delta is slowly retiring their 757 and 767 fleet, but it will be hard for them to do so as they still need those aircraft, and they don’t have the best replacement yet.
Their replacement would’ve been in the form of Boeing’s proposed NMA aircraft (or 757-X and 767Plus, whatever they want to call it), but those plans have since been put on hold due to the MAX issue and the global pandemic. It’s sad that Delta has to say goodbye to their 777s, but it’s not such a bad trade when the A350 offers better fuel economics (up to 21% reduction in fuel burn).