But Don't Expect Big Orders Anytime Soon
When it comes to aircraft fleets, the proposed joining of Delta
Air Lines and Northwest Airlines represents a mixed bag... akin to
inviting ALL your family, even the less-desirable members, to your
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports the merger of a loyal
Boeing customer, Delta, with Northwest -- one of Airbus's best
customers -- begs the question, which planemaker, if any, will see
So far, Delta CEO Richard Anderson, who will oversee the merged
carrier, isn't offering any direct answers. "You are basically
going to have a very balanced fleet between Boeing and Airbus, and
we would expect that would be the case going forward," Anderson
Delta currently operates large numbers of Boeing 767 and 777
widebodies, in addition to smaller fleets of 757s and 737s.
Delta also operates MD-88 and MD-90 narrowbody planes, built by the
former McDonnell-Douglas. Those planes are the younger relatives to
Northwest's fleet of geriatric... but paid-for... DC-9s.
Many industry pundits believe those aging DC-9s will be the
first to go, assuming federal regulators allow the proposed merger
to go through. But things become less clear when talking of
Northwest's sizable Airbus fleet, which includes A319 and A320
narrowbodies. The carrier is also the largest operator of the
Airbus A330 twinjet, which it employs on many overseas routes.
The A330 has proven itself a worthy
addition to Northwest's long-haul fleet, which also includes a
handful of Boeing 747-400s. However, the carrier also has 18 Boeing
787s on order, with options on another 50. Given Delta's preference
for Boeing products -- and the fact Delta is the one keeping its
name, and executive team, in the merger -- it's likely those
options will be exercised.
Northwest CEO Doug Steenland, who will join the new airline's
board of directors, acknowledged that scenario Monday. "If
anything, it increases the likelihood that the options will be
exercised for the 787 to accommodate the expanding international
network," he said.
Delta has 52 unfilled orders with Boeing, for 46 737s and six
777s. Northwest has taken most of the plane it ordered from Airbus
over the last few years.
And then there's the exclusive pact Delta, along with American
and Continental, signed with Boeing in the 1990s -- promising to
only purchase Boeing planes over the next 20 years. Those pacts
were reworked in 1997, in order to gain European approval for
Boeing's takeover of McDonnell Douglas... but to date, none of
those three airlines has purchased an Airbus plane since, though
they are legally allowed to do so.
In the near-term, chances are neither planemaker will see any
new orders from a merged Delta/NWA... as executives will be too
busy integrating workforces, dealing with the inevitable labor
disputes, and coordinating operations and schedules.
When the time comes for the new Delta-branded mega-airline to
order new planes, however, there are several indications Airbus may
see one of its best US customers disappear.