Delta Air Lines wants to be one of the first to fly a potential new mid-sized jetliner from Boeing, said Delta CEO Ed Bastian.
That’s a vote of confidence from one of the most influential aircraft buyers as Boeing decides whether to build the plane, dubbed the 797 by analysts.
“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.”
The employee message shows how Delta is looking to play an active role in the development of Boeing’s first all-new jetliner since the 787 Dreamliner.
Boeing’s proposed jet is “an interesting concept,” said Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant. The plane would be a potential replacement for Delta’s ageing fleet of Boeing 757s and 767s on long domestic routes and midrange international flights.
“Delta is actively engaged with Boeing on this and we will continue a healthy dialog with them as the program matures,” Durrant said.
A Boeing representative said the company doesn’t disclose details of customer discussions.
The cost of developing what Boeing calls the “New Midmarket Airplane” probably would run from US$10-$15 billion, Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at Teal Group, said recently.
Boeing has been in talks with more than 50 potential customers as it refines its design for the NMA and executives build a business case for the planemaker’s board.
The company is targeting the market gap between the largest narrow-body and smallest wide-body aircraft.
One version of the 797 would seat 225 travellers and fly about 5,000 nautical miles – from the midwestern U.S. to Europe, for example. A larger sibling would seat 275 and cruise about 4,500 nautical miles.
Delta’s decision in December to order 100 Airbus A321neo jets over Boeing’s competing 737 Max 10 fuelled industry speculation about whether Delta might shun Boeing for some period. The new Airbus jets will replace at least some of Delta’s older 757s, as well as McDonnell Douglas MD-90 and older A320 aircraft.
Boeing’s new 797 would give Delta better range than the A321neo and additional capacity to haul cargo, which is more important for international flights than for domestic ones, said George Hamlin of Hamlin Transportation Consulting.
“Delta needs both Boeing and Airbus,” Hamlin said. “If it becomes beholden to one, that doesn’t give it much leverage in negotiations."