Delta Reportedly Considering Boeing 737 MAX Order

Filed Under: Delta

Delta is reportedly considering ordering 100 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. On the surface this might sound like the craziest idea ever, but there’s potentially some merit to it.

Delta’s lack of 737 MAXs has been an advantage

Among the “big three” US carriers, Delta has been the only one to not have any Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on order. Up until the COVID-19 pandemic started, that was a huge advantage for the airline, as other airlines have had their 737 MAX fleets grounded since last March.

As Delta CEO Ed Bastian said last year while discussing the company’s strong earnings:

“We’ve clearly been a beneficiary, and as long as the Max stays out of the sky, I guess, we’ll continue to be one.”

Back during good times, other airlines had to cut capacity due to the 737 MAX being grounded, while Delta didn’t have that problem.

Of course at this point the problem has been reversed — having the 737 MAX grounded is a blessing, since airlines are parking most of their planes anyway.

Delta has Boeing 717s they don’t want

Delta is unique in their fleet planning strategy. Of the “big three” US airlines, American has the youngest fleet, while Delta has the oldest fleet.

Arguably Delta’s strategy has been much better, both financially and for passengers:

  • For the most part Delta would rather keep planes for a long time (or even buy them used), and just spend some money on the interiors, so that passengers enjoy the experience
  • Rather than spending so much money leasing new and fuel efficient planes, they’d rather keep planes they’ve already paid for, even if operating costs are higher

You wouldn’t know that this Delta plane is nearly 30 years old

In that regard, as reported by Forbes, Delta owns about 80% of their fleet, meaning they’re only leasing about 20% of their fleet, or just under 200 planes. Delta owns a higher percentage of their fleet than competitors.

Nearly half of the planes that Delta leases are their Boeing 717s (essentially an updated version of the MD-80):

  • These planes aren’t fuel efficient at all
  • They only have 110 seats, so they’re slightly larger than regional jets, and about the same size as Delta’s new A220-100s
  • These planes might not make sense for Delta going forward, though it’s much harder to retire leased planes than planes that have been paid for outright

Delta A220-100 cabin

Why Delta might order Boeing 737 MAXs

The Air Current is reporting that Delta and Boeing are considering a deal that would see the airline swap 717s for 737 MAXs:

  • Delta is leasing the 717s from Boeing’s leasing company, and Delta wants to return these planes before the leases are up
  • Clearly Boeing is struggling with the 737 MAX; not only is the plane grounded, but new demand for the plane has dried up, and we’ve even seen airlines cancel their existing orders
  • The two companies could reach a deal whereby Boeing takes 717s back early, and Delta places an order for 737 MAXs, keeping the production line going

Of course there are a lot of details still to be worked out. One thing is for sure — Delta knows how to get a deal on planes (whether new or used), so as crazy as this sounds, I’m sure there’s merit to it.

Delta is reportedly considering a Boeing 737 MAX order

Bottom line

At this point this is just a rumor from a reliable source, and doesn’t seem to be in the final stages yet, but this sure could be interesting. When you dig into it, this concept isn’t as nutty as it sounds — Delta is leasing 717s and doesn’t want them anymore, and the airline would do better with 737 MAXs.

Could Boeing and Delta figure out a mutually beneficial way for Delta to get rid of 717s, and Boeing to get rid of 737 MAXs?

What do you think of this concept?

  1. Could be an interesting development for Hawaiian. Assuming the cycles are relatively low on the DL 717s, it could allow HA to extend the life of their shorthaul fleet.

  2. Seems really hard to believe. Delta has been so focused on net promoter scores and the A321 is the highest scoring plane in their fleet. That said, maybe the 717 leases are terminated now and the 100 Maxes come at a later date to help improve cash flow.

  3. Why would DL make a move like that? Buy some Airbus 321’s or 330’s over a plane plagued with problems! Business-wise, I’m sure DL can get the 737 MAX at rock-bottom prices, and that would look good on a balance sheet. But customers may be hesitant to fly on one once they know. Not a good move, IMHO.

  4. Would Boeing take the 717s off Delta as soon as the order is confirmed? If the MAX ends up being binned altogether due to the non-lifting of the flying ban it’d be a great way for Delta to have their cake and eat it. Otherwise I see no upside for Delta as they a) will not need more capacity for a while and b) the MAX has a shoddy reputation.

  5. I think this is a smart business decision on both ends. While the 737-MAX is bad compared to the A321, I think it’s better than the 717. It’s hard for me to believe that they are going to swap 737-MAX for 717 though. Maybe that’s a product of cancelling some flights to fly bigger planes.

  6. Don’t do it Delta!

    As a Delta DM, I have really enjoyed not having to check what type of aircraft I’d be on, since I personally have no interest in flying on a 737 max, no matter what reassurances are provided. If Delta was to acquire these planes, it means more hassle for me, and I would likely opt for non-Max aircraft even if that meant flying on a competitor.

    I’d rather see Delta offload their 717s and give more flying to Endeavor/ or Skywest on CRJ900 and ERJ175s. Personally, I think one of the big upcoming impacts will be that cities with historically 5-7 flights a day will drop to 2 flights a day, making accessibility much harder. As a business traveler, this will kill my home time, so a strong Delta Connection strategy to keep more flights in moderate size cities would be awesome! 737 Max would also work against that potential strategy.

  7. I would love this! It’s always entertaining when reading Max articles & looking at all the Delta fanboi’s in the comments section saying, “AtLeASt DeLtA DoESn’T hAVe ThE 737 maX.”

    If they keep the same trend as their 32Q seat map, watch them have the same number of seats as AA’s config. as the 7M8.

  8. This is a horrible business move. Passengers are aware of what happened on the MAX already and won’t forget Boeing’s failures.

  9. Why did Delta order the 717 in first place? Didn’t they know they were not fuel efficient and could only handle 110 passengers?

  10. @Santastico, if I remember correctly Delta inherited those 717s in a merger or something like that. Also remember that Delta had a huge MD fleet

  11. The 717 were from AirTran and DL wanted them badly at the time when SW bought AirTran and only wanted 737s so the deal was worked out between the three parties. It helped DL get rid of many 50 seat regional jets which was a huge plus. While I love that little plane, it’s time has come. Also DL has very old A319 and A320s from the NWA merger. I could see the A220-100/300 replacing the 717 and A319s and the 737 Max replacing the few 737-700 (they have 10 I believe), the A320s, the lost MD80/90s and older 737-800s. DL is all in with the A321 for the 757 replacement. That would massively simplify DL’s fleet which while owned and cheap is expensive to operate. DL could be A220/737/A321 domestically and A330/A350 (maybe A321XLR) Internationally within the next 2 -4 years. Same simplification that AA is doing. I see these two carriers becoming more and more alike as AA improves operations and service and DL simplifies their fleet. Will be fun to watch once the COVID crisis is behind us.

  12. I’m going to guess what DL will pay for the 737 close to what they paid 717, which is a great deal. The 717 is a great plane and likely still in demand. Remember fuel efficiency shouldn’t be a big issue for the foreseeable future.

    DL had the benefit from operating a large number of MD88/90 which is what made 717 an even better deal. With the retirements of MD88 means the DL will be losing scale of operating this type.
    Another benefit is DL can send the 717 back overnight while it will take time before the 737 will be flying again an even longer before it is delivered, so an easy way to reduce short term payments and control fleet size.
    The A220 is also a similar replacement for the 717 so little affect in that segment.

    Now the 737 would be a great replacement for the aging to be retired 320/738/752.

  13. The Mad Dogs and 717s are actually a good size for a lot of Delta’s pre-C routes that are short hops into congested airports where 110 seats is a good number for demand and runway limitations, Thinks something like Pensacola-Atlanta. And the 717s were cheap and easy to integrate into existing operations.

  14. A recertified MAX will probably be the safest aircraft to fly (since its safety issues would have to have been looked at with an electron microscope before certification and approval). They will also probably be sold at rock bottom prices.

    Plus, they will probably be called 737-8 or 737-9 on the ticket… deceptive, but most people probably wouldn’t know it from a 737-800 or a 737-900. In many cases they probably won’t know or care if they’re flying in a 737 at all

  15. The market is full of used planes and Boeing and AB are going to have a hard time selling new planes. With Boeing getting a bailout the Feds are going to expect all the US airlines that got bailouts to buy some Boeing planes. So it’s either the Max or 787’s.

  16. Boeing and the airlines will quietly drop the “MAX” moniker before it goes back into service. Expect it to be the 737-801 or 737-8000 or something like that.

    People here are not really the common airline passengers. If it’s a cheap fare and the reservation says 737-8000, nobody is going to care. Especially when it’s a new plane instead of some beat up 737-700 or A320.

  17. Now is the time to get a MAX cheap. Boeing is desperate for sales. In time, the public will look past the MAX’s problems, and it should be a good place in the long run. It will be remembered as the most reviewed plane in history. If Delta has the money, this could be good, although the industry is going to take years to recover. Lots of factors at play.

  18. No delta!!!

    But yet again, Boeing needs the help desperately. I will have full confidence that the 737Max will be safe when flying again, as United, Southwest and soon British Airway will be flying the MAX.

    Im sure Delta will get a great price with deliveries not for a few years later, and it will help modernize the fleet.

  19. The CEO of Delta has been spamming my mailbox ever since COVID-19 and this gives me a reason to say something back. I don’t know if I’ll be renewing my Skymiles American Express card.

    Someday Boeing is going to stop making 737s. So long as it keeps making them, Boeing is going to have to bribe the world’s legislators to keep environmental limits for airplanes artificially high, because it is the worst “new” plane on the market. Boeing will also have to use every hook and crook to keep passengers out of the E195 and the A220 because when they do they’ll discover that “widebody comfort in a regional jet” is not a slogan but a reality.

    Soon the Comac C919 will come on from China, it will be worse than the 737 but it is built on a better foundation and it will outlast the 737. Certainly Chinese airlines will buy as many C919 as it can make but they will offer great financing terms, deals, and bribes to the growth markets in Asia and Africa. Boeing will not be able to win on cost forever.

    I used to fly Delta a lot because I was going to the West Coast but now I tend to head in directions better served by American’s Philadelphia hub. I see good flights to LA on all-Airbus equipment from JetBlue out of Syracuse, that might be worth some driving or an extra hotel stay to vote for my dollar, and pay a modest amount to vote with my dollars against the 737.

  20. Like it or not, I think it’s a win-win for bothe Delta and Boeing. DL gets to offload their aging 717’s and Boeing gets an order for the Max. Once the Max does get its recert, it will be a safer aircraft today than it was yesterday. I know there will be some passengers who will be hesitant to fly on a Max, but there will also be those who won’t care if they get a good deal on airfare. As a couple of posts said, more than likely the Max will be rebranded.

  21. So let me get this straight – just so I understand;

    – Delta has a fleet of some 900 aircraft, 600 of which are parked, for now.
    – Historically, they have used older aircraft because of an extensive MRO network called TechOps
    – Fuel prices are at historic, all time lows – with futures (i.e. fuel hedging) also low
    – Older aircraft require more fuel, but since it’s cheap and you can buy into the future (Hello SWA) you can mitigate the cost to save on capex
    – Delta just borrowed a ton of money from the gov’t, some of which must be returned
    -All of the big 3 have come out and said they will come out smaller at the back end of the virus
    – 737 Max is still grounded, will require sim training and Delta have no Max sims
    – Boeing tried to mess with Delta using the gov’t to try and kill their A220 deal (which Delta got a sweet deal on and increased the order since)
    – Delta is happy with the A220 (as are customers) and has options for another 50
    – The A220’s are already replacing all the Angry Puppies in the fleet (and the 717’s, when the leases were up), which is why they bought the -300

    Here’s a biggie:
    – Delta ALREADY have some 245 aircraft on order, all with Airbus. About some 200 are narrow body jets

    But someone thinks Delta will take on the 737 Max?
    Sounds to me like somebody put a story out there to try and generate positive news about Boeing. Delta can keep flying the leased 717’s as part of their 300 aircraft now, in order to mitigate losses and park their owned aircraft.

    If these were fantastic financial times, Boeing was giving the Max away and it was anybody else but Delta, you might say…maybe. The only aircraft Delta is interested in from Boeing, right now, is the NMA to replace their ageing 757/767 fleet – which Ed Bastian has already come out and said so.

  22. Folks, any DL ordered 737MAX aircraft are going to be at the end of the current order list. They are a few years from delivery.

    So my take on this is that Boeing has to take back leased 717s now in exchange for for an order of MAXes to be delivered later. DL can phase out 717s and use new A220s coming on-line to start replacing 717 routes as the economy recovers. In a time where they are likely to need a smaller fleet for a few years, it’s best to turn in planes with lease payments vs other planes that they own.

    In a few years, hopefully the economy would be such that they’re ready to start expanding the fleet again. Here come the MAXs. If fleet expansion isn’t needed, then perhaps it will be time to start retiring some NW A320s (or even DL 737s). At that point the MAX is likely to have been renamed and flying (successfully) long enough that most of the flying public will have forgotten what a MAX is.

  23. You are only concentrating on the “deal” but not worrying about when the Max’s gonna crash. I bet you will never fly personally on the Max as you never know when its gonna dive and die. Very bad decision. I would never fly on Delta if they use a Max. Period.

  24. BS BS BS BS BS

    Either this is shill advertising for Boeing, or Delta is as retarded a company as Boeing has become.

    Steve64, any answer that involves predicting the return to normalcy and/or return to normal level of air travel…..ignorant. Speculative. Irrelevant. You’re spewing nonsense.

    Folks, Boeing is old news. Yesterday’s story. Obsolete in an economy and society that MUST shift from the cutthroat ridiculous profit games that LED to the 737 MAX’s development in the first place!

    Steve64, have you forgotten that the MAX was an ABORTION that Boeing plopped out to please PROFIT HUNGRY and OLD FASHIONED airlines? Yeah, it was a turd from idea to production, yet the “economy” will save it??!

    We have a saying for fogeys like you….. OK BOOMER!

  25. The 737 MAX probably makes the best financial sense on paper given the 717 leasing obligations and how Boeing will probably sell the MAX for pennies on the dollar in several months as they continue to lose orders. That said, the A220 family could certainly fill the 717’s role. The 737 is a cramped and dated design and the A320 isn’t that much better, whereas the A220 is clearly an aircraft that was designed in this century. Delta’s A220 nails it and sets a higher standard.

  26. @PZ185 you said it exactly.

    Fliers given a choice will not fly the 737 or even A320 when they could fly the A220 or E195. They just need to get that choice. Long term operating costs will be less than the 737 generation, Embraer has been highly successful at keeping the maintenance costs low and reliability high in particular which means more profit.

    In the long term legacy airlines like Southwest that are 737-dependent will be bought out by private equity funds and go the way of Sears and Kodak; airlines that want to be here in 2030 as a going concern (not a property to loot) will want to get started with the next generational move.

    Boeing should have made the NMA to fill the niche that will be opened up for flights that are too busy or long to serve with A220 class airliners, but no they had to make the 737 refresh nobody wanted, try to keep the A220 out of US markets, try to buy out the Embraer E2-Jets at an unfairly low cost. Politicians had better plug their ears when Boeing comes around if the U.S. has a chance of being a relevant aircraft manufacturer in the long term.

  27. Part of the reason Delta operates the 717 is that it allowed them some relief in their scope clause with the air line pilots union (ALPA). By leasing those 717s for Delta pilots to fly, Delta was allowed to increase the number of 76 seat jets subcontracted to Delta Connection carriers. I don’t know the exact details of the labor agreement but Delta would likely have to replace the 717s with other jets to continue to be able to operate the same ratio of 76 seat aircraft.

  28. Good move. The flying public couldn’t care less about the technical issues of the MAX.

  29. Didn’t many of the DL 717 fleet come from the Trans World BK? What happened to those frames? Also, I believe several of their current 57 frames also came from TW.

  30. It would be interesting to see DLs net promoter score difference between the 321s and the 739s. Delta certainly hasn’t been shy about using both for similar stage lengths.

    It does seem like there is a space in the fleet mix for MAX8s as the 320s eventually age out. The A220 can take up the 717 routes. (All of this seems less urgent with oil at $12.)

    I just would like to see several years of problem-free flying of the MAX before uptake at Delta. And sadly, the 737 cabin is just never going to get more comfortable.

  31. “Part of the reason Delta operates the 717 is that it allowed them some relief in their scope clause with the air line pilots union (ALPA). By leasing those 717s for Delta pilots to fly, Delta was allowed to increase the number of 76 seat jets subcontracted to Delta Connection carriers. I don’t know the exact details of the labor agreement but Delta would likely have to replace the 717s with other jets to continue to be able to operate the same ratio of 76 seat aircraft.”
    I believe A220’s fall into the same class of aircraft with the ratio being up to 88 mainline aircraft unlock 70, 76 seat regional jets which have to maintain the save average flight hours per day. I believe so long as delta has 88 A220-100+717+E190/195 or the E2 variant there off those planes are still available.

  32. Well.. I guess I’m never going to fly Delta… the 737 MAX is unstable without its MCAS and should never have been modified from the original engine without a complete revamp in design.

  33. After all of the issues and negligence on Boeing’s hands, DL wants to jump in and buy the Max????? A plane many are afraid to fly??

    They must have gotten one hell-of-a deal! Hope their insurance is paid up.

  34. Delta…
    You must be mad..
    Continue to be a non MAX airline…
    You will fly with full aircraft….

  35. Delta won’t be getting the Max’s because they are an airbus focused airline (with the exception of the crazy amount of -900er’s they have). The only new aircraft Delta will be acquiring are airbuses. They have 100 321Neos on order along with 100+ more airbus order for different aircraft. Delta has no Boeing planes on order and they won’t be acquiring Boeing aircraft anymore.

  36. During the time of loss and fear people tend to use bad judgement. Delta will be making a mistake if it knowingly plunges into a bad deal. I mean ,no one will fly Delta if the aircraft is 737 Max. After their lousy safety record everyone has been checking the kind of aircraft they are flying.

  37. Makes no sense to replace the 707/717 with a MAX vs the A220-300, which Delta is already purchasing.
    Given the current market, they can park them if need be…

  38. This POS MAX will NEVER fly! People are not dumb enough to board one! Stick with the A220 Delta!


    So off-brand. 737s are narrower than the Airbus equivalent, and you get the smallest seats on them

    Delta – you’re about making more money by offering a product people are paying more for. Don’t get the Boeing cramplanes!!!!!!!!!

  40. Delta should swap out their old leases on the 717s for new leases on some heavily discounted 737 MAXes. Offload the unneeded 717s now, take delivery of re-certified (and heavily scrutinized) new 737s in a few years from now, and then [be able to] walk away from the 737s after 10-year leases on those. Profit.

  41. The 737 MAX should never fly again. Boeing has shown no capability to even find its mistakes let alone fix them.

    I for one will never fly in one and if Delta puts them on routes I need to use, I will fly another airline.

    Attention Mr. Bastian. Customer feedback

  42. IIRC, they got a lot of the 717s cheap as a result of the Southwest-Air Tran merger and Southwest wanted to remain a single plane fleet rather than keeping Air Tran’s 717s.

  43. What I know is that the 737’s, whether new Gen’s.or the Max 8 I flew from Vancouver YVR to PVR Jan. 2019 are uncomfortable with poorly designed seating. Economy middle row a legal carry on won’t fit because of low hanging electrical box and aisle seat also can’t fit carryon because the outside seat leg is inset even on the Max 8 being new? Don’t see that seat design on Airbus or the one Embraer ERJ I havs flown on. Also the seat cushion is only good for about 4 hours before bottoming out, unfortunately my annual winter trip to Puerto Vallarta is over a 5 hour flight. This past January 2019 flights were on Airbus 319 and 320-comfortable seating and good legroom, yay! If my preferred airline, Air Canada, brings back the Max 8 next January on this route I will take an alternate, probably Aero Mexico via Mexico City, be served good complimentary meals and avoid the long customs/immigration lineups in Puerto Vallarta, a win all around. Just to illustrate another of Boeing’s recent missteps Bombardier first offered Boeing a deal for the C series planes-now Airbus A220-before finally agreeing to give up 51% of the C series program to Airbus for $1.00 plus co-sharing further production program costs. Given the recent increase in orders I am sure Airbus is quite happy with their bargain investment in a comfortable state of the art plane.

  44. So now Delta’s shopping Boeing’s parking lot sale? Those must be some dirt cheap prices to make that investment now.

  45. Hell no. No one is stepping foot on a MAX. I doubt it will even get approved to fly, Boeing should just scrap the whole MAX plan.

    Delta, look into Airbus.

  46. Why the US Congress would encourage American companies to buy a defective and dangerous aircraft (737 MAX) after having bailed out its carriers. Airbus could take over the 717 as part of an order for A220-500 (at the cutting edge of technology) built in North America.

  47. Crazy idea. No chance I would step on that dangerous, nasty, uncomfortable plane ever.

    Even if it flies safely (doubtful), nobody will trust it, and secondly the 737 fuselage is narrower than a A320 series anyway, which makes it less comfortable especially in the dense configurations they are using now.

  48. Unless Boeing completely redesigns the 737 Max from scratch, nobody is going to want to fly on one. On the other hand, this would be a savvy move by Delta if they had inside knowledge that the FAA was going to shut the 737 Max program altogether. They get Boeing to take their outdated 717’s of their hands while agreeing to buy planes that they won’t actually have to take delivery of.

  49. Lol… look at these entitled westerner. Never said nobody until you see ULCC from south east asia or eastern europe buying these maxs and selling their flight for $2. Emerging economies will generate many new opportunities for max. People Will take their chances as they have more money they want to fly instead of ride a bus.

    And those who says boeing is for profit, guess what, airbus is for profit company as well, if you don’t want for profit company maybe try a sukhoi or comac, a state owned enterprise…

  50. Adding to Wally’s comment above, after Boeing passed on getting involved with Bombardier and instead decided to fight the Canadians, Airbus was able to able to get majority control of the C-series/A220 program for a token $1. Following that, Boeing saw the strategic shift that had just taken place and went to Brazil, where it worked out a deal to acquire 80% of Embraer for $4.2 billion. Now Boeing will be paying more than Embraer is worth, at the same time Boeing’s finances and stock price have crashed.

    Boeing’s management decisions are an epic case study in LOL after WTF after SMH (737 MAX).

  51. This is more than a rumor heard by a journalist. It’s been talked about at HQs.

    They won’t be delivered for a while, but DL will very likely buy 320NEOs, or 737-8 MAXs. Without them there will be a gap from130x seats to 190. Both planes are very similar, with the 737 being slightly more efficient for shorter flights. The single biggest deciding factor between the two will be the purchase costs. There may be a need for as many as 200 of them when traffic comes back.

    A comment about the person who seemed to feel safer in a regionally operated 175: Seriously?

  52. Great. Not. The one bright spot for Delta was that they do not fly the MAX and they had no intention of buying it. Wonder if the corruption is rampant, as usual, and arm twisting is going on between US Gov., Boeing to arm wrestle Delta into buying the MAX. Delta too is getting billions in the orgy of tax bailouts. So their might be a forced quid pro quo. You take, you buy MAX. Sad. Looks like Jet Blue might be the last standing. Did Jet Blue take bailout money? If so, then look for the MAX to join their fleet. No carriers left in North America to avoid getting on that white elephant. Perhaps Frontier? Did they too take the bailout? Spirit? Sun Express? Hawaiian? All are now part of the five year AOC socialist ekonomik plan.

  53. The 737 Max thing is blown WAY out or proportion. The plane had a flaw, but it was resolved and is one of the safest planes in the sky. Most travelers have no idea what they are flying on, nor do they care. It all comes down to price of flights. So most of what I read is just completely people who hate. Do 15 minutes of research on the 2 crashes. It is not hard to find thee airlines have terrible records. I’d fly a 737 Max any day. Your other option might be walking, a bike, a car, train. Maybe a bus. Most of you are just jumping on a bandwagon. Good luck, I will fly while so I hope you all stay home.

  54. I feel this isn’t smart as Delta already has the a220’s, and has placed order for the a321neo’s.

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