Artist's concept of a Delta Airbus A321neo. Image courtesy of Airbus.
Update: Delta has confirmed an order for 100 A321neo ACF aircraft, powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines. The order consists of 100 firm orders and 100 options, and will be delivered between 2020 and 2023. This continues the trend of Delta ordering exclusively from Airbus, starting from 2014. These aircraft will come with a total of 197 seats (20 in First Class, 30 in Comfort+, and 147 in the Main Cabin), which is only 2 seats left than the highest density 757 configuration in Delta's fleet (199 seats). Despite the smaller size of the aircraft, this is possible due to the "Airbus Cabin Flex" option, which allows the doors of the aircraft to be moved around without compromising on a passenger's personal space. This order comes as a double blow to Boeing, since the Canadian Government canceled the planned purchase of 18 F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets just several days before the announcement of this order.
In what would be a major blow to American aerospace giant Boeing, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is presumed to be in final talks with European aviation conglomerate Airbus for up to 100 Airbus A321neo aircraft. According to a source familiar with the matter, the proposed Airbus A321neo deal will call for the aircraft to be powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G-JM geared turbofan engines, an extremely efficient and innovative turbofan engine that unfortunately has been plagued with lots of mechanical issues during its initial launch.
According to CNN, Delta was in talks with both Airbus and Boeing for purchases of up to 100 A321neo jets, or 100 Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft. Both aircraft have approximately the same range, and can carry roughly the same number of passengers in terms of payload. However, ever since September, Boeing and Delta have seen their relationship start to strain, as they became embroiled in a trade war between the United States and Canada. Last year, Delta placed a large order for 75 Canadian-assembled Bombardier CS100 aircraft. Boeing, however, brought a complaint to the United States' Department of Commerce, saying that Bombardier dumped the jets into the market at very low prices, and proposed offering used Embraer E-190 aircraft to Delta. In addition, Boeing claimed that the CSeries was hurting 737-700/MAX 7 sales, despite the fact that they do not offer a true 100-seat aircraft anymore. However, Delta canceled the E-190 order, and went ahead with ordering the CSeries. This ultimately prompted the Department of Commerce to inflict a 300% tariff upon Delta, sparking the trade war that just yesterday forced Canada to cancel an expected order for new F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft.
In recent years, Delta has not been a huge Boeing buyer. Before they merged with Northwest Airlines, Delta operated a predominately-Boeing fleet. However, after the merger closed in 2009, Delta inherited Northwest's Airbus A330 and A320 family aircraft. Delta's last major order with Boeing was back in 2014, when it ordered up to 140 Boeing 737-900ER aircraft. Ever since then, they've order the A330-300E (242 ton MTOW), 122 current generation A321-200, 25 A330-900, and 25 A350-900, all from Airbus. In addition, they canceled a 787 Dreamliner order inherited from Northwest, because the aircraft was not the right size for their needs; furthermore, it was not available in Delta's specified timeframe due to the 787's massive backlog. As most of these aircraft are replacing older Boeing/McDonnell Douglas models, Delta is set to become a predominately Airbus operator in the near future.
File photo of a Delta Air Lines Airbus A321-211 (N312DN, test registration D-AYAZ). Image courtesy of Oliver Holzbauer.
It is highly likely that most of these upcoming A321neo aircraft will be assembled at Airbus' assembly line in Mobile, Alabama. Furthermore, most of the A321neos will go towards replacing Delta's aging Boeing 757 fleet, as these two aircraft are fairly similar in terms of size and range; however, the 757 offers superior in-flight performance and handling to pilots. Interestingly, Delta has decided to go with the Pratt & Whitney GTF (Geared Turbofan) engine for its A321neos. Pratt & Whitney rival CFM International offers the CFM LEAP-1A engine on the A321neo, and Delta has been a historical buyer of CFM International engines for its A320 family fleet. It is likely that Delta really wanted the GTF's innovative design, which utilizes a gearbox in order to "leverage high propulsion efficiency." This sets it apart from the CFM LEAP-1A engine, which utilizes a more conventional design, but at the cost of fuel efficiency and performance. By contrast, Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft has the CFM LEAP-1B as its sole powerplant, so if what Delta really wanted was the GTF engine, then Boeing wouldn't have had any chance in deciding the outcome of this order.
In addition to their 757s, Delta also has aging 737-800s, A319s, MD-88/90s, and A320s that will need to be replaced in the coming decades. Both the 737 MAX 8 and A320neo are perfect for this niche market. It is speculated that Delta will also issue a proposal for an order from either Boeing and Airbus regarding an order, but it is also highly likely that the order will be split between both manufacturers, given that Delta's current fleet in this specific market consists of Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft and Airbus A320ceo family jets.
Ironically, Delta has been one of the major proponents in the "US3 vs ME3" case, which is a long-running dispute between the three legacy U.S. carriers (Delta, American, and United) and the three largest Middle Eastern carriers (Emirates, Qatar, Etihad). Delta has long since been an active member in this dispute, and has called for enforcing the Open Skies agreement, claiming that "the future of U.S. aviation is at stake" and by speaking out against the ME 3 receiving government subsidies from their respective countries, "American jobs" can be "saved."
It's important to understand that Delta's board will have to vote on this order, which is expected for sometime later this week. In any case, it's exciting to see Delta, one of the commercial aviation industry's "pickiest" aircraft buyers, issue a proposal for new aircraft, but ultimately, it's terrible news for Boeing, who has lost a very important order to their European rival because (1) their trade war with Canada's Bombardier and (2) their choice to not offer a GTF engine on the 737 MAX.
What do you make of Delta's proposed order?