Delta is the biggest airline in the United States that doesn’t currently have the Boeing 737 MAX in its fleet (which I’d consider to be a positive, personally, since I prefer the A321neo to the 737 MAX). For a couple of years now, there have been reports of Delta being in negotiations with Boeing for the purchase of 737 MAXs.
The time has finally come, and Delta has announced a massive Boeing 737 MAX 10 order. Whether or not the airline ever takes delivery of these planes, though, is a whole different matter.
In this post:
Delta orders up to 130 Boeing 737 MAX 10s
Delta has just placed an order for up to 130 Boeing 737 MAX 10s at the Farnborough Airshow — this includes 100 firm orders, plus the option for 30 more of these jets. Delivery of these planes is only expected to start in 2025, though even that timeline is in limbo, as Boeing is struggling to get the 737 MAX 10 certified, and has even threatened to cancel the plane.
It’s claimed that these 737 MAX 10s are 20-30% more fuel efficient than the planes that they replace, which are presumably previous generation Boeing 737s. For context, the 737 MAX 10 is the highest capacity version of the Boeing 737, and it’s bigger than previous generation versions of the 737.
Delta expects to install 182 seats on its Boeing 737 MAX 10s, including 20 first class seats, 33 Comfort+ seats, and 129 economy class seats. The planes will of course feature the Boeing Sky Interior, personal televisions, Wi-Fi, and more.
Not only is this Delta’s first 737 MAX order, but it’s also the carrier’s first new aircraft order from Boeing in about a decade. Delta CEO Ed Bastian has for many months been hinting at the possibility of a deal with Boeing, stating that “there’s certainly a place for [the MAX] if we can figure out how to bring them in.”
It’s believed that one motivation for this deal is that Bastian thinks it’s politically important to have some new aircraft orders with Boeing, rather than just with Airbus.
Delta has long been an opportunistic aircraft buyer, and has taken a different strategy than other major airlines in the United States:
- Delta is happy to buy used aircraft, and also operates planes longer than other airlines; used planes can often be purchased for a fraction of the cost of new planes, and the airline makes the interiors nice so that customers won’t feel like they’re flying on an older plane
- When Delta buys new aircraft, the airline is typically looking for a great deal; Delta is very strategic about when it buys new aircraft
Go figure that for a long time Delta not buying the 737 MAX was a huge competitive advantage. When the plane was grounded due to two fatal crashes, that posed a great challenge for American and Southwest (at least pre-coronavirus), since they had to significantly reduce capacity. With the 737 MAX flying once again, that’s no longer the case.
How does the 737 MAX 10 fit into Delta’s fleet?
In the long run I can see why Delta might want to place a Boeing 737 MAX order. The airline is willing to fly planes that are 20+ years old, so perhaps the need isn’t as immediate as at other airlines. But looking at Delta’s narrow body fleet:
- Delta has 95 Airbus A220s on order, which more than replace the carrier’s 53 Boeing 717s; then again, Delta retired all of its MD-80s during the pandemic, leading to a significant capacity reduction
- Delta has 127 Airbus A321s in its fleet, which are an average of around three years old, and the airline also recently started taking delivery of its first of 155 Airbus A321neos; these will more than replace the carrier’s 127 Boeing 757s (arguably the airline could use some A321XLRs for long and thin routes)
- Delta has 114 A319s and A320s, which are an average of well over 20 years old, so these will need to be replaced at some point
- Delta has 77 Boeing 737-800s in its fleet, plus 159 Boeing 737-900ERs, which are an average of over 10 years old
What surprises me about this deal is that Delta is looking at the 737 MAX 10, rather than the smaller variants. The 737 MAX 10 is a competitor to the A321neo, so you’d think that Delta already has that segment of the market well covered, especially since these planes are still quite new. However, it looks like Delta wants most of its narrow body growth to be with 180+ seat aircraft, rather than ~150 seat aircraft.
Why did it take Delta this long to order the 737 MAX?
In the fall of 2021, Bastian expressed surprise that Delta hadn’t yet reached a deal on 737 MAXs, so why hadn’t it happened? All we can do is speculate, but it sure seems to me like it came down to price.
Delta and Ryanair are both known to be looking for a deal when it comes to buying planes. Similar to Delta, Ryanair has been in negotiations with Boeing for quite a while over an additional 737 MAX order. In the fall of 2021 it was announced that negotiations between the two companies had been called off, as they weren’t able to reach a deal. As Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary described it:
“We are disappointed we couldn’t reach agreement with Boeing on a Max 10 order. However, Boeing have a more optimistic outlook on aircraft pricing than we do, and we have a disciplined track record of not paying high prices for aircraft.”
I’d guess that it has been a similar story at Delta, and that this has caused the delay with the order. I’m not surprised to see that a deal was ultimately reached, though:
- With Boeing having issues getting the 737 MAX 10 certified, there’s a big question mark as to if & when this plane will be produced, so I imagine that Delta got an unbelievably good deal
- Delta is partly placing this order for political reasons, since it looks good if the airline also buys Boeing jets, rather than just Airbus jets
- Boeing really has to fight for Delta’s business (unlike Ryanair’s), given that the airline hadn’t ordered a new Boeing jet in about a decade
Delta has placed an order for up to 130 Boeing 737 MAX 10s, including 100 firm orders and 30 options. Delta expects to start taking delivery of these planes in 2025. Of course that assumes that the 737 MAX 10 gets certified, and there’s still a big question mark around that.
What do you make of Delta’s Boeing 737 MAX order?