Delta will phase out its use of 50-seat regional aircraft in summer 2023.
In a presentation to investment analysts on Wednesday, Delta president Glen Hauenstein touted the phase-out as a customer-service enhancement. The Delta Connection CRJ-200s don't have a first-class cabin. Beginning this summer, said Hauenstein, Delta will be the first network U.S. carrier to offer first class on every flight.
The announcement wasn't a surprise. Delta said in 2020 that it planned to jettison the last of its 50-seat aircraft by the end of 2023. Meanwhile, an ongoing U.S. pilot shortage has prompted Delta, United and American to cut regional flying more quickly or more steeply than previously planned.
Still, the summer phase-out underscores the service decreases at many small U.S. airports.
According to Regional Airline Association CEO Faye Malarkey Black, 60 U.S. airports have lost more than half their air service since 2019, with smaller airports experiencing the most significant declines.
When the CRJ-200s are gone, the smallest Delta Connection aircraft will have 69 seats and offer two cabins.
In its third-quarter 10-K regulatory filing, Delta said regional subsidiary Endeavor and regional partner SkyWest were operating a combined 39 Bombardier CRJ-200 50-seat planes for Delta Connection.
Delta improves outlook for 2023
Hauenstein spoke of the CRJ-200 phase-out as Delta offered a positive outlook both for the current quarter and for 2023.
The carrier now expects to take in 7% to 8% more revenue in the fourth quarter compared to a year ago. In October, Delta's projection was a 5% to 9% revenue increase.
For 2023, Delta is projecting revenue growth of 15% to 20% over this year with an operating margin of 10% to 12% compared to this year's 7.7%.
CEO Ed Bastian said an aspirational goal for Delta is to reach full network restoration in 2023, though staffing constraints could still interfere. The carrier's official projection is that it will fly 98% of its 2019 seats next year.
Delta expects 75% of its domestic seat growth next year to come from its four core hubs: Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit and Salt Lake City.