After the pandemic-induced early retirement of its Boeing 777 fleet, Delta Air Lines replaced the massive scale model of the plane prominently displayed in the lobby of its Atlanta headquarters with an Airbus A350-900. It was a symbolic moment between the airline and the European aerospace giant, but also a signal about its relationships and how Boeing — Delta’s one-time exclusive supplier — had fallen to an also-ran as it transformed its fleet.
While Airbus still dominates Delta’s fleet priorities from its smallest to largest aircraft, Boeing is on the verge of regaining a foothold as the pair is at the finish line for a deal for up to 130 737 Max 10 aircraft, according to several familiar with the airline and plane maker’s plans. The agreement could be announced at the Farnborough International Air Show later in July.
The deal with Boeing is the culmination of years of on-again, off-again discussions with Delta. The airline has long sought a way back into the Boeing backlog, a strategic priority for chief executive Ed Bastian who, according to many, saw political and industrial risk in not having U.S.-made Boeing jets on order, regardless of the final assembly locale of its single-aisle aircraft. The order was not part of a head-to-head competition with Airbus.
As of June 24, Delta has 221 aircraft on order, all from Airbus, according to estimates from Jefferies. Delta last took delivery of a new Boeing airplane, a 737-900ER, in June 2019.
The deal is an important win for Boeing and the Max. The deal, when completed, would see the first of 100 firm 737 Max 10 jets arriving in 2025, and now puts the 737 Max at six of the top 10 U.S. airlines, including each of the top five along with American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.
Adding a major order from a U.S. airline fills a hole in Boeing’s backlog at a time when future orders from China are mired in geopolitics, reflecting the long-term uncertainty around the company’s access to the country. Relatedly, Airbus and four Chinese airlines today announced orders for 292 A320neo family aircraft, the first such commitment for new western aircraft by the country since 2019.
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