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Boeing blockbuster: Delta signs deal for 100 737 MAX 10 aircraft

July 18, 2022
7 min read
Boeing blockbuster: Delta signs deal for 100 737 MAX 10 aircraft
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Delta Air Lines will add the Boeing 737 MAX 10 to its fleet, the airline and Boeing confirmed on Monday, with a deal for 100 of the latest model of Boeing's workhorse narrow-body, plus 30 options.

The deal, announced at the Farnborough Airshow outside of London, will see the Atlanta-based carrier begin to take deliveries in 2025 pending the certification timeline for the plane type.

Delta currently operates several variants of the previous generation of 737, the 737 NG.

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This is Delta's first order for new aircraft from Boeing since 2011, when the airline signed an agreement to purchase 100 of the planemaker's 737-900ER jets. The airline took delivery of the final new plane from that order in 2019. Delta has also purchased or leased several used Boeing aircraft since then.

The airline has also signed a services agreement related to several used 737-900ER aircraft the airline recently acquired.

The MAX 10 is the highest capacity version of Boeing's latest generation narrow-body aircraft. With a slightly shorter range but more seats than other MAX models, the MAX 10 would likely slot between the Airbus A321neo and the 737-900ER in Delta's fleet in terms of range and capacity.

"The strategy was based on the fact that we have aircraft that are retiring, and the MAX 10 fits into our network well," Delta senior vice president for fleet and tech operations Mahendra Nair said at a press conference at the airshow. "The MAX 10 fits in with our A321neos very well."

Delta will configure the MAX 10 with 29% of the cabin dedicated to premium seating, including first class and Comfort+, Nair said. The plane will seat 182 passengers with 20 first-class seats, 33 extra-legroom "Comfort+" seats and 129 seats in the main economy cabin, Delta said in a press release.

News of the pending deal was reported earlier this month by trade publication The Air Current. Reuters had reported in March that Delta and Boeing were in talks about a potential order.

A Boeing 737 MAX test aircraft at a Boeing facility in Seattle. (Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy)

Delta is also expected to place an order for additional Airbus A220 aircraft during the biannual airshow, Reuters reported. The deal would see about a dozen of the smaller narrow-body added to Delta's order. The airline has taken delivery of 56 out of 95 jets in its existing order, according to Airbus.

During an earnings call with investors last week, Delta CEO Ed Bastian hinted at the pending announcement.

"We have [an] opportunity in the next 3 to 5 years for some large narrow-body acquisitions, and that’s something we’re always talking to Airbus and Boeing about,” Bastian said. Bastian had also suggested to pilots last year that he could see a place for the MAX in Delta's fleet.

The MAX 10, along with the lower-capacity, longer-range MAX 7, is still undergoing the certification process by Boeing and the FAA.

Delta has been the only major U.S. carrier without the MAX in its fleet, which served as an advantage during the nearly two-year grounding of the aircraft type following two fatal crashes in late 2018 and early 2019. The MAX was cleared to reenter service in late 2020.

Certification of the two variants has taken on a new sense of urgency. A 2020 law that goes into effect at the end of this year requires all newly certified plane types to have a new type of cockpit alerting system. Adding that system to the MAX 7 and -10 models would be costly for Boeing and would negate the variants' commonality with previous 737 MAX and NG models, a major selling point for the plane. In essence, it would be considered a different plane type rather than a variant.

If the plane is not certified by year's end, Boeing would need Congress to waive the requirement in order to be able to sell the variants without the new system, although the Delta order could add pressure on Congress to issue the waiver or grant an extension. The MAX 7 is further along in the certification process than the -10.

Congress passed the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act to improve the FAA's oversight of new aircraft certification, although the legislation was intended to cover new plane types after the entire 737 MAX family was certified, according to a legislative aide quoted by The Air Current.

However, following criticism over lax oversight ahead of the MAX crashes, the FAA has been slow to approve the new variants, focusing more intense scrutiny on them even after recertifying the original variants — the MAX 8 and MAX 9.

"It's taking longer to get approval of our documents than it has in the past," Mike Flemming, a senior vice president for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said at a media briefing in Seattle last month. Flemming added that the planemaker was about halfway through the certification process for the MAX 10.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in an interview with Aviation Week earlier this month that he would cancel the MAX 10 program unless the plane is certified before the end of the year or Congress extends the deadline.

Delta and Boeing executives sign an order deal for 100 737 MAX 10 aircraft plus options. (Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy)

"The [737-10] is a little bit of an all-or-nothing ... this is a risk I’m willing to take. If I lose the fight, I lose the fight," Calhoun told Aviation Week. "A world without the -10 is not that threatening."

The claim could be designed to pressure Congress and regulators. Boeing has more than 700 orders for the MAX 10, including the order from Delta and one from United placed last summer. The model would be Boeing's primary competitor against the Airbus A321neo.

"I personally wasn't [concerned by Calhoun's statement] for the simple reason that we've been talking to Boeing all along and they've been very transparent about where they are in the certification process," Nair said. "I think he had a statement to make, and he made that statement, and I'll leave it at that."

On Sunday during a briefing ahead of the Farnborough Airshow's opening day, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal said he did not think it likely that Boeing would end up canceling the variant.

"That's not a high probability path," Deal said. "If it takes a little more time, we're going to go back to Congress and ask for that time."

"I feel confident about getting through this as we approach the end of the year," Deal added.

Still, the Delta sale may be contingent on Boeing finding a solution.

"If there's change to the [cockpit system], we'll have to readdress," Delta's Nair said at Monday's press conference, "because that's part of the reasoning for the order."

Featured image by (Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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