Delta On Verge Of Buying 100 Boeing 737 MAXs

Delta is known for buying only planes from foreign manufacturers. If they buy Boeing, it’s used.

They’ve long been at odds with Boeing, from opposing re-authorization of the Import-Export Bank (whose biggest beneficiaries are Boeing and GE); seeking protectionist crackdown on big Boeing customers Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar are big Boeing customers; and buying Bombardier C Series which Boeing sought government protection from.

In fact Delta CEO Ed Bastian has called Boeing an ‘arms dealer’ to Middle East airlines after his predecessor at the helm of the Atlanta-based carrier intimated that Boeing customers from the Gulf were complicit in 9/11.

But proving that Boeing will sell to anyone, and Delta will buy anything if it’s cheap enough, Delta Air Lines is reportedly in talks for 100 Boeing 737-10 MAX jets in a deal that could be announced in the coming weeks.

While it remains possible that leaks from multiple sources are intended as a stalking horse to drive down price on a similar deal with Airbus (it would hardly be the first time a deal was done this way) or that the deal could fall apart, indications are that this is both real and likely.

The deal, if confirmed, would be the first order from Delta for Boeing’s best-selling single-aisle airplane family, and the first major Boeing order for the carrier in a decade.

It comes as Delta – the only major U.S. carrier without a 737 MAX on order – reshapes its fleet in anticipation of a swift recovery from the pandemic.

The airline does need to refresh its narrowbody fleet, potentially on top of the roughly 150 Airbus A321neos and A220s (new name for the C-Series) already on order. They also have Airbus widebodies on the way in the form of both A330s and A350s.

Currently Delta has about 60 Boeing 717s, 77 Boeing 737-800s, and 111 Boeing 757-200s. The MAX 10 is Boeing’s largest new narrowbody jet that they’re working hard to get into commercial service after first flying in June 2021.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. FACT CHECK: Delta is the first U.S. carrier to take delivery of Boeing’s 777-200LR aircraft. So your statement of “If they buy Boeing, it’s used.” is incorrect, unless you want to caveat that with “current fleet” and “from mergers”.

  2. More than anything, I think this shows just how much Boeing is willing to discount the MAX right now.

  3. great I assume that means 100 more Delta planes with crappy seats and very thin padding…

  4. “Delta is known for buying only planes from foreign manufacturers. If they buy Boeing, it’s used.” Like those 159 737-900ERs?

  5. I’d prefer that DL stay away from Boeing planes at this point. We’ve seen story after story about shoddy workmanship and engineering out of Boeing. I consider DL’s large Airbus fleet (and pending Airbus deliveries) to be a strategic advantage, and living in a DL fortress hub, their fleet decision matters a lot here.

  6. Boeing sucks and needs to return being led by engineers. Including moving corporate back to Seattle. Until then, Airbus all the way.

  7. Maybe Delta wants to get into the plane flipping business.

    Just think of what happened to the value of used cars since 2019. Flippers have made money.

  8. Everyone in this thread pointing to Delta-Boeing purchases from 15+ years ago needs to relax and stop being so pedantic.

  9. They key to the deal is likely going to be driven by whether GE/Snecma is willing to give Delta engine overhaul rights for the LEAP engine that exclusively powers the MAX series.
    Delta has overhaul rights from Pratt and Whitney and Rolls-Royce for every new engine it has on order. Delta has made it clear that it does not want to tie its costs to an outside company. Further, by gaining the right to maintain its own engines, it can sell those services to other airlines which helps reduce maintenance costs for Delta’s own fleet.

    The MAX10 is not selling in large numbers; Boeing has to do something to recover the program’s costs

  10. I expect it will be increasingly hard to avoid flying a 737 MAX jet as more are sold and more come back online but, I for one, am not looking forward to it. I have zero confidence in the 737 MAX jet, Boeing engineering safety, and FAA oversight. I fly a bunch of other Boeing jets will do everything I can to avoid flying on that jet. Yup, maybe irrational but it is real to me.

  11. Delta is the largest operator of the passenger 757 and 767s, most of which were bought new from Boeing. Delta really wants Boeing to build an all-new aircraft esp. for the 767 but Boeing’s production problems have been much bigger issues than developing new aircraft.

    Delta’s fleet of 737-900ERs is younger than some of its Airbus purchases and all of the inservice aircraft were purchased new from Boeing.

    And let’s also not forget that Delta has been taking delivery of new aircraft from Airbus on schedule while most of Delta’s competitors have been impacted by delivery delays on virtually every passenger model which Boeing produces.

  12. @JMM – the MAX is proudly and safely flown by Alaska Airlines – always ranked high in safety. Their pilots have no qualms about flying the MAX – in fact they say it’s a dream to fly.

    Boeing learned its lesson, I think it’s time to give them a chance to redeem themselves.

  13. John,
    given that most carriers operate the 787 in 9 abreast in coach which produces seat widths under 17 inches in order to get economics comparable to Airbus aircraft which have an inch more seat width, I don’t want Delta to order the 787 and avoid flying the 9 abreast 787s unless there is no other choice.

    There is nothing that the 787 can give Delta that its A330-900s and A350s can’t do with better economics.

    And I still think this MAX order, if it happens, is as much about getting Delta Tech Ops authorized as a service facility for the LEAP engine as it is about the MAX aircraft itself. That and the need for Delta to have new Boeing aircraft semi-regularly on its order book.

  14. Thanks Tim Dunn for all the great information in this post and others. It is most fascinating!

  15. @Tim Dunn, That is a valid point about seating configuration and width in coach. However an inch more seat width in economy is not the only consideration, nor is it an overriding one in my view.

    The 787 costs less than the A350. The 787 has clearly superior electronically dimmable windows.

    Comparing Delta 350s and 330neos and American 787s, seat width in business class is the same. Seat width in the 787 is greater than 350s and 330neos in premium economy. (American is 2-3-2 in PE while Delta is 2-4-2). Coach seat width on the 787 is about the same as the 747. I wish Delta still flew that bird too.

    Efficiency and economics depend on a lot of factors particularly passenger capacity and class configuration. In two class configuration, the A350 burns less fuel per passenger than the 787 but it is very close.

    The most telling stat is the 787 has had close to 1500 aircraft orders while the 350 has just over 900. As both aircraft were launched at nearly the same time, it seems clear that airlines prefer the 787.

    Boeing blew it with the MAX. If Delta wants to diversify its fleet, the 787 is the better aircraft. I’d rather get a ride on the 787 than the 350 orn330neo.

  16. Reuters needs to review what actually constitutes a major airline in the US.

    As Delta is far from the only US major that hasn’t ordered the MAX

  17. John,
    I referred to per seat economics. The A350 does better because it is a larger aircraft than all B787 models except for the B787-10 where the A350-1000 is still larger – and also a whole lot more capable.

    A whole lot of people talk about premium cabin seat size while ignoring that the vast majority of customers fly economy. The 787 gets the per seat economics it does by using narrower seats.

    The B787 has been selling for much longer than the A350 which partly explains the higher sales numbers. Airbus is cannibalizing some of its own A350 sales because of the A330-900 which Delta pushed them to develop. Delta doesn’t believe a B787 or A350 capable aircraft on every longhaul route that can benefit from a new generation aircraft.

    If Delta buys the MAX, then we can start talking about a 787 order but the former is a whole lot more likely than the latter.

  18. well, duh, Gary.
    Every aircraft requires filling an appropriate number of seats.
    Since you mentioned the size of the A350, it is worth noting that United has the 350 seat 777-300ER while the same plane for American seats a nearly identical number of passengers – but the 777W, regardless of who operates it, burns 30% more fuel than the A350-900.
    So, an A350 flight at the same fares, will cost a heck of a lot less to operate.

    I’m pretty sure that Delta did the calculations. They weren’t a launch customer for the A350 and there was plenty of data on the B787 by the time Delta made up its own mind about ordering the B787 vs A350. And remember that DL inherited a 787-8 order from NW but dragged it out and then cancelled it based on poor performance.

    and let’s also not forget that Airbus has a history of designing and building its “match” to Boeing products in order to create more capability via larger size and lower costs -and has successfully used that strategy on the A320 vs B737, the A330 vs B767, and is doing the same with the A350 vs. the B787. Boeing’s answer to the larger capacity and range of the A350 is the 777X which is not selling and is a very large aircraft by the standards of in-production aircraft.

    American and United jumped on the B787 bandwagon early while Delta sat back because it had a smaller but more capable (even if more costly 777 fleet) and then made a jump to the A350.
    Sometimes being an early adopter is not the best strategy.

  19. correct to say that the AA 777-300ER seats an almost identical number of seats as Delta’s A350-900s.

  20. I booked a less preferred time to avoid the MAX on UA and will do the same on DL. I don’t plan to fly the MAX until it has completed 5 years of service without incident. Hopefully DL will be okay with discounting these flights ’cause I’m sure others feel the sam way.

  21. Boraxo,
    There is a good chance that Delta will not receive any MAXs until 5 years after it returned to service. They might get 2024 deliveries but chances are high that this order is to provide a longer term life to the MAX esp. the MAX10. Delta has 218 new narrowbodies on order plus the 29 used 737-900ERs it needs to put in service. One-third of the new Delta narrowbodies on order are due to be delivered after 2024. They are not likely looking for any aircraft in the next few years.
    By the time Delta puts MAXs in service, its US competitors will have already flown hundreds of them
    for as much as 5 or more years of service each.

  22. @Tim Dunn, Many airlines do calculations and they’ve come out in favor of the 787 1500 to 900. Airlines began ordering the 787 in 2004. Orders for the 350 started two years later.

  23. thank you for making my point, John.
    The B787 began selling before the A350.
    Delta made the calculations for its widebody fleet and chose the A330-900 and the A350 instead of JUST the B787 and certainly rejected the now economically outdated 777 including the 777-300ER which American and United chose.
    AA and UA will have the 777 in service for at least a decade while Delta took a billion dollar charge and get rid of its 777 fleet. All of the economic calculations you want to do are meaningless in light of the fleet mix which each of the US big 3 have done which includes scores of 777s in the AA and UA fleets for years to come.

    Add in that Delta’s entire widebody fleet includes more space in coach for every passenger than the B787 and B777 fleet of AA and UA and I will strongly bet that Delta’s revenue premium on its international will only grow.

  24. and John, you still keep missing the plot line that Delta is one of a handful of airlines in the world whose costs for its own fleet are dramatically reduced because of the maintenance work it does for other airlines; Lufthansa is one of the few others.
    Delta specifically went with the A330NEO and A350 combo because Rolls Royce awarded Delta with the maintenance contract for the new generation engines that power the Airbus widebodies but also the B787. It isn’t lost on anyone that understands the industry that Delta’s first customer for its Rolls Royce overhaul was a Virgin Atlantic engine that was paid for as part of Rolls-Royce’s attempts to fix the 787’s engine problems.
    Delta’s aircraft acquisition costs are being reduced over decades by the engine maintenance contracts that Delta currently has for every engine that Delta has on order; a few engines like the RR engine on the 787 as well as some Pratt and Whitney applications are not in Delta’s fleet but Delta will still make money overhauling those engines.
    So, spare us your calculations because the numbers clearly don’t add up the way Delta sees them.
    If Delta gets the LEAP engine contract for MAXs, American and United and Alaska and Allegiant could be sending their engines to Delta for overhaul.

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