Delta CEO Revives Boeing 737 MAX Order Potential

The on-again-off-again rumors of Delta ordering the Boeing 737 MAX are back on. Recently, Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, discussed the potential for the MAX coming to Delta’s fleet, though he stopped short of indicating it was definitive or that an order was impending. These comments come as Delta has added more Airbus A321neo orders and acquired some used Boeing 737-900ERs and Airbus A350-900s to power the airline’s recovery from the crisis.

Delta 737-900
Delta, already a major operator for the Boeing 737 family, leaves the door open again to a MAX acquisition. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Delta CEO revives potential for a 737 MAX order

According to a report in Airline Weekly, Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, told pilots there was “a place” for the Boeing 737 MAX “if we can figure out how to bring them in.” Delta declined to comment on Mr. Bastian’s remarks.

This is the latest in a host of remarks and reports that Delta has been considering the 737 MAX for its fleet. In November, Mr. Bastian stated that Delta was working with Boeing, including a potential 737 MAx order. Before that, in April 2020, there was speculation that Delta could trade in its Boeing 717s in favor of the 737 MAX, which was debunked. Before that, in late-2019, Mr. Bastian expressed confidence in the MAX once it got back in the air, but again, the airline did not place an order.

However, there is reason to take Mr. Bastian’s comments with a grain of salt.

Delta Boeing 737
Delta’s CEO stated it is in conversation with Boeing, but it is not yet committed to a MAX order. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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Delta leaves options open

Delta has consistently stated they are in constant communication with Boeing, which Mr. Bastian also noted this time around, and for a good reason. Delta is one of the largest airlines in the United States and will have some serious new aircraft needs in the coming years. Boeing would certainly like a piece of that.

It makes almost no sense for Delta to shut out all possibilities of a MAX order or come out publicly stating they want many MAX jets in their fleet. In both cases, Delta loses out on a potential negotiating tool to get the best deal on an aircraft, which it would not want to do.

While there has been much attention and narratives of the souring of Delta’s relationship with Boeing in the aftermath of Boeing’s complaint about the pricing of Delta’s then-Bombardier CSeries order, the two companies have little reason to hold a grudge. In the simplest of explanations, Delta needs planes that only Boeing and Airbus offer that are tested and ready for service, and Boeing does not want to lose out on a major customer.

Delta CEO Revives Boeing 737 MAX Order Potential
Delta is the largest operator of the Boeing 757-200 worldwide. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Indeed, Delta has previously been one of the strongest proponents for Boeing to build a new midsize aircraft. This includes comments that suggest as many as 200 jets could be on the table for an order. Plus, when it comes down to what is best for the business, if Boeing offers the right product at the right cost, Delta would undoubtedly sign on the dotted line.

Will Delta order the Boeing 737 MAX?

Delta has 155 Airbus A321neos on order. However, over the next decade, the airline could have up to 300 narrowbody retirements with the Airbus A320ceo family, Boeing 737-800, and Boeing 757s getting close to retirement age. Airbus alone is unable to fill in the gaps and give Delta the fleet it needs for replacement.

This is where Boeing comes in. The 737 MAX is one of the only contenders in this space that is likely to be reliably in production through the end of this decade, if not beyond that. While there may be some offerings from China or Russia, Delta would unlikely want to bet on something new that has never been certified in the US for passenger operations. Thus, Boeing is almost certain to get an order from Delta sometime over the next decade.

Delta CEO Revives Boeing 737 MAX Order Potential
Delta has not received a new Boeing jet since 2019. However, it will likely need Boeing aircraft over the next decade as some of its planes face retirement. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Delta already has a healthy backlog of narrowbody aircraft coming. On top of the 29 used Boeing 737-900ERs it acquired, the airline has 155 Airbus A321neos left on order, a handful of A321ceos, and just under 50 A220s awaiting delivery. For now, Delta seems content with its backlog. If it wanted to take Boeing 737 MAX jets in the near future, it is possible the airline would have pressed to get a deal when Boeing still had white tails it was looking to get rid of and when the airline would have had a little more power to get good pricing due to a slowdown in orders.

For now, Boeing is getting back to business. It has almost cleared its whitetail aircraft backlog. It has upped its forecast for aircraft demand over the next 20 years. Recently, Boeing and Ryanair also ended negotiations over a MAX order over a difference in pricing, indicating Boeing perhaps feels it has a little more power in negotiations. In short, it does not appear Delta is seriously itching for a MAX order very soon.

Boeing 737 MAX
Boeing and Delta still have a relationship, even if the airline has not bought the MAX yet. It is unwise to rule out a MAX order from Delta at this time, but also too hasty to consider it as good as done. Photo: Getty Images

There is also the question of maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) for the MAX engines. Delta has been investing heavily in the MRO segment of the industry. This includes engine maintenance, and it has typically sought to do maintenance on engines for aircraft it acquires. In February, Delta completed the first engine maintenance of a Rolls-Royce Trent 7000, which powers the airline’s Airbus A330-900neos. This will likely be part of any MAX deal Delta signs.

Major airlines typically try to avoid dependency on a single fleet. In June, United made waves with an order for 270 new narrowbody aircraft. While 200 of those were MAX jets, 70 were Airbus A321neos. American Airlines also selected the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and Airbus A321neo years ago when it placed a fleet renewal order.

At the end of the day, Delta is more likely than not to buy the 737 MAX at some point in the next decade. Exactly when and what number of jets it selects remains up to speculation.

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