Delta Says They Want to Be the Launch Customer For the Boeing 797. Should We Believe Them?

Boeing has talked about a possible new “middle of the market” jet, something between the largest 737 and the new smaller 787 widebodies, since at least 2003. This plane would be a replacement for the Boeing 757.

It’s unofficially dubbed the ‘797’ and is expected to seat 220 – 270 passengers and fly up to 5,200 nautical miles.

And Delta wants to be the plane’s launch customer.

Ed Bastian, said he wants to be one of the first customers for the planemaker’s anticipated mid-market jetliner. The chief executive officer expressed his enthusiasm for the aircraft, dubbed the 797 by analysts, in a recent message posted on Delta’s internal website.

“You’re going to see us participate in Boeing’s middle-of-the-market campaign,” Bastian said. “I hope that we’re going to be a launch customer on that program as well.”

Now, Delta doesn’t buy Boeing new planes. They buy used planes. They buy Airbus.

Politically they’ve been at odds with Boeing,

  • They opposed re-authorization of the Import-Export Bank (whose biggest beneficiaries are Boeing and GE)

  • They wanted a crackdown on Gulf carrier expansion, and Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar are big Boeing customers

  • They bought the Bombardier C Series which Boeing sought government protection from

Now Delta is just negging Boeing. And Boeing may be willing to go to unheard of lengths to win Delta’s approval with a deal. Or perhaps Delta just wants to neutralize Boeing’s political opposition by hinting they could make a sale.

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. I think it’s foolish and shortsighted to think that Delta won’t do what is best for Delta at every move. There’s a good chance that their anti-Boeing rhetoric has been of service to them recently, but I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that they will hop on the Boeing train if they see a deal that’s good for them.

    It’s not good business to hold grudges – EBIDTA growth is not fueled by negging.

  2. @Nick I think you miss my point, they’d say this whether they were serious or not but it may just drive Boeing to make a best-ever offer..

  3. I think Delta is using this for their own means. First to “show” interest in buying US metal or at least a tacit one at best, but in the end I would ride another pony on this one. Could be AS, or SW certainly not AA their lock sync with DL.

  4. Delta already has A321NEO and A330NEO on order, which mostly covers the same market as a potential Boeing 797. Delta has made clear through their actions they aren’t serious about ordering Boeing – all their talk about being “interested” in a potential 797 is just a negotiation trick to keep Airbus honest on price.

  5. Delta was Boeing-only until the Northwest merger. Since then, with a mixed fleet, they’ve been more open to Airbus and Bombardier.

  6. I work for one of the three major engine manufacturers (Delta is one of our most important customers) and I have had the opportunity to speak with several Delta pilots and operations folks throughout my career. I am also a loyal Delta flyer. Delta 1) Wants the best planes for the mission 2) wants the planes at the best price and 3) often has somewhat idiosyncratic fleet needs. The A321 is a better plane from a performance, fuel burn, and customer perspective than the 737-9 or -10. Delta got a fantastic price on the CSeries order, and likely got excellent pricing on the A330neo as well. The NMA/797 projects as a B767 replacement, ideally sized for transatlantic routes with more capacity than the A321LR and less range/better fuel burn than the A330neo,. Being the launch customer would *guarantee* an excellent price. Finally, there’s the matter of Delta TechOps; while many airlines work towards fleet commonality to lower maintenance costs, TechOps is a revenue generator for Delta and mitigates the impact of having a high-mix fleet. IMO, Delta is very serious about being the NMA launch customer, and it makes very good business sense for them.

  7. Gary: Delta CEO Ed Bastian was #2 under Richard Anderson (and groomed for the CEO position). You speak as if there was a whole new management team implemented when Richard left.

    The 737-900s will flow into the fleet through 2019.

    Good on Delta for playing all vendors

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