Currently the largest plane based on the number of passengers it can transport, the Airbus A380 seats well more than 500 passengers on two full decks of this megaplane. Airbus, a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (NASDAQOTH: EADSY ) , markets the A380 as a way for airlines to transport more passengers than ever before.
But Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL ) disagrees with the economics of the aircraft in a move that is expected to have Delta order none of these planes.
Conventional wisdom would teach us that giant aircraft would have lower cost per passenger and be more economical for heavily traveled routes. However, Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson disagrees, saying, "The A380 is, by definition, an uneconomic airplane unless you're a state-owned enterprise with subsidies."
Delta has chosen smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft over the megasized A380. This has implications beyond merely Delta itself however. The Atlanta-based airline took a 49% equity stake in Virgin Atlantic, an airline with the potential to take delivery of A380s.
An analyst from Deutsche Bank expects that Delta will pressure Virgin Atlantic to not buy these A380s, following in Delta's existing stance on the aircraft. But the first delivery of an A380 to Virgin Atlantic is scheduled for 2018 so there is still time to make a decision.
For its own part, Virgin Atlantic has not given a position on the A380 regarding the exact timing of deliveries. Additionally, no U.S.-based airline has ordered any. However, Delta's aircraft strategy extends beyond the A380.
Delta has taken an unconventional approach to plane buying overall. It made news last year when it acquired 49 used MD-90 aircraft for bargain basement prices with the intention of refurbishing them for service. Additionally, Delta's first Boeing (NYSE: BA ) 787 is not expected to arrive until 2020 in contrast to United Continental Holdings' aggressive approach to the 787 involving 65 orders and the airline being the launch customer for the stretched 787-10.
But Delta is not entirely shunning Boeing and Airbus. The airline is taking delivery of its first 12 of 100 Boeing 737-900s this year and Delta also placed an order for 30 Airbus A321s and 10 Airbus A330-300s. But in keeping with Delta's strategy of not overspending on the newest of aircraft, neither the Boeing or Airbus planes are the latest models coming into production over the next few years.
While the lack of orders from Delta is a moderate disappointment for Boeing and Airbus, there are plenty of other airlines ready to pick up the slack. Other carriers are still on the path of building fleets of the most modern planes even if it costs more. So, fortunately for the manufacturers, Delta's strategy is unique to the industry.
Older planes, new strategy
Delta Air Lines has been all about new strategies and better using capital for shareholders. In addition to choosing less expensive aircraft, it is using those funds to refurbish airport terminals and provide both a dividend and share buyback. While not completely shunning new aircraft, Delta's approach saves significant funds over conventional industry approaches. Investors looking for an airline with a different take on the industry should take a further look at Delta Air Lines.
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