Delta still wants Boeing to build a new mid-sized widebody

Dec 12, 2019

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Delta Air Lines wants Boeing to build a new widebody jet for the so-called middle of the market, even as the planemaker faces questions over its aircraft development process following the 737 MAX.

“We’re interested in Boeing coming to market with a new airplane,” said Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, at the carrier’s investor day Thursday. He was specifically referring to a jet that could replace Boeing 757- and 767-sized aircraft on flights to Europe.

Bastian’s comment came after he said he was “not convinced” that Airbus’ 757 replacement, the A321XLR, is the right plane for the transatlantic market.

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Delta’s support for a new mid-market Boeing jet is not new. Bastian called on the Chicago-based planemaker to launch and begin selling the proposed New Mid-market Airplane (NMA) in March. The NMA would seat up to 270 passengers with a range of about 4,600-5,750 miles.

However, Bastian’s comments came just days before the crash of a 737 MAX in Ethiopia and a subsequent global grounding of the Boeing workhorse. The planemaker has since focused its energy on returning the MAX to service, which is not expected before early 2020.

“Our priority is safe return to service for the MAX,” said Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing, in October. “With that in mind, we are continuing to drive forward with our efforts evaluating NMA. We still are not at a decision point nor are we ready to be at a decision point yet.”

Related: FAA Administrator says Boeing 737 MAX won’t fly again until 2020

Some have raised the question of whether it might be better for Boeing to develop a 737 replacement rather than the NMA when the MAX gets back in the air. In October, The Air Current reported that the planemaker had spoken to a handful of potential airline and leasing customers on the prospect of what it dubbed the “Future Small Airplane,” or a jet that would seat roughly 180-210 passengers.

Whether the Boeing would go forward with a 737 replacement, or the NMA, first once the MAX is flying again was undecided at the time, according to The Air Current.

The prospects for the NMA took a further blow when United Airlines ordered the A321XLR earlier this month. Long a booster of Boeing’s proposed widebody, the Chicago-based carrier’s commercial chief Andrew Nocella said United continues to consider the possible NMA as a 767 replacement but needed to move forward on the 757 front. United will use the XLR to retire its 757-200 fleet from 2024.

Boeing, Nocella said, did not have an aircraft to sell that has both the capacity of a 757 and the range to cross the Atlantic.

Related: United orders Airbus A321XLR to replace Boeing 757s to Europe

Delta can afford to wait for Boeing to make a decision. GIl West, chief operating officer at the airline, said Thursday that its 757 and 767 retirements have a “more distant horizon,” giving it the flexibility to wait for an option from the U.S. planemaker.

The carrier is considering the NMA and aircraft from Airbus, which is understood to include the A321XLR and A330neo, for its mid-sized fleet needs, he said.

Delta operated 116 757-200s and -300s, and 77 767-300ERs and -400ERs at the end of September, its latest fleet plan shows. In addition, it had orders for 100 A321neos — the platform that the A321XLR is based on — and 31 A330-900s, among other larger and smaller new aircraft.

Featured image by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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