- Last week, two Delta Airlines flights from South Africa had to refuel.
- Experts say a combination of deteriorating weather conditions and an increase in the number of passengers and / or cargo could be to blame for the aircraft.
- Both flights from Johannesburg to Atlanta were operated by Airbus A350-900 XWB aircraft.
In recent days, two Delta Airlines flights from South Africa to the United States have had to make unscheduled fuel stops on their way back to the United States. The first turn came on November 28 when Delta Flight 201 from Johannesburg, South Africa to Atlanta made a technical stop at Boston to refuel.
Another flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, which departed on December 2, was diverted to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where it refueled before proceeding. Delta said both stops were “pre-planned” and that Atlanta needed new flight crews to fly the last leg.
“The flight redirection was related to the technical features of our A350 aircraft and the payload for that particular flight,” Delta said in a statement to Boston Diversion Insider. “This can happen on extremely long-haul flights when the best operating conditions cannot be met.”
Numerous factors can play a role in diversion, including weather and payload, especially on extremely long-haul flights from Johannesburg to Atlanta. Delta has not seen any diversion on the route since September 6, the earliest date available for viewing using FlightAware tracking data, and the route only resumed on August 1.
One possibility is that there will be a new demand for flights outside of South Africa, which will lead to the launch of fuller flights. The discovery of the Omicron corona virus and the introduction of travel bans by the US government have forced some travelers to leave South Africa for the United States.
Henry Hartewildt, a travel industry analyst and president of the Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider, “You have some unusual market conditions due to the variety of Omicron emergencies and changes in travel policies in the United States.”
Delta declined to comment on how crowded its flights were on both occasions. But filler flights are just one of many possibilities that could affect long-distance routes such as Atlanta-Johannesburg.
Hart Weldt said demand for cargo along the way could increase, and the weather could also play a role as the weather in South Africa gets hotter and the United States gets colder.
Johannesburg is a “hot and heavy” city for airlines, which means that planes are operating at higher temperatures at higher altitudes, affecting both aircraft’s performance capabilities. November and December are in mid-spring in South Africa when temperatures rise and aircraft performance is affected.
And in the Northern Hemisphere, November and December are the coldest seasons and when the winds intensify. Extremely long-haul flights from Johannesburg to Atlanta are already at the top of the Airbus A350-900 XWB’s performance capabilities, and any adverse conditions can affect its range.
FlightAware data shows that on November 29, Delta Flight managed to cover a distance of 17,700 nautical miles in 17 hours and 16 minutes non-stop. Delta first flew the Boeing 777-200 on the Atlanta-Johannesburg route, the longest route on Delta’s network, until the plane retired in October 2020. The route to August and Delta is still adjusting for long-haul aircraft use.
Bruce McClellan, a tail group aviation analyst, told Insider, “There could be some learning curves for Delta if they haven’t used the aircraft before on this route.” “I just think, maybe, he was unlucky and the weather was bad enough that he had to turn the plane around and refuel.”
Both experts agree that stopping fuel on scheduled non-stop flights could cause Delta’s reputation problems if they continue. United is currently the main competitor to Delta as it is the only non-stop airline between South Africa and the United States.
One solution might be to ban the number of passengers and cargo on a plane carrying more cargo than that. Delta will then need to assess how many restrictions it can impose before the flight becomes unprofitable.
If the A350 can’t run reliably without stopping and significantly limiting its payload, Hart Weldt said, then, “the airline has
It is our responsibility to reconsider whether this path should be taken. “