The chief executive of Delta Air Lines has told investors at a J.P. Morgan conference that the Atlanta-based airline would be “very interested” in the proposed mid-market concept plane that Boeing is yet to formally commit itself to developing. Ed Bastion told the conference Delta would need to replace around one-third of its mainline fleet over the coming years in what will likely pit Boeing against its European rival Airbus.
Delta currently has one of the largest but also oldest aircraft fleets in the United States. With an average age of over 17-years, Delta will be looking to replace roughly 200 of its single-aisle 737 and 757 aircraft in the coming years. The 757 was the largest narrowbody aircraft ever produced but the last of its kind rolled off the Boeing production line back in 2004.
Boeing is said to be losing ground in the mid-sized market to Airbus who have been pushing its stretched single-aisle A321. The new long-range version of the A321 is capable of flying 4,000 nautical miles with 206 passengers onboard. Meanwhile, the closest Boeing equivalent, it’s latest generation 737MAX-10 can carry up to 230 passengers but is only capable of flying 3,300 nautical miles.
The smaller 737MAX-7 can fly up to 3,850 nautical miles but can only seat a maximum of 172 passengers.
The so-called NMA concept aircraft (some believe the M stands for mid-sized or mid-market), sometimes known as the 797, would sit between Boeing’s single-aisle 737MAX aircraft family and the larger widebody 787 family.
It was previously thought that Boeing was considering a unique oval shape for the NMA which would create a dual-aisle aircraft cabin to greatly enhance passenger comfort while keeping operating costs low for airlines. Boeing says it wants to optimise the fuselage for passenger comfort, claiming the experience would be much better than spending up to eight hours in a single-aisle A321.
Concerns, however, have been raised about how such a design would put pressure on cargo hold space – a better passenger experience may not necessarily work for airlines when they also make money from shipping cargo around the world.
Boeing could use the Paris Air Show in June to officially announce the 797 programme but the new plane probably wouldn’t be ready to fly until at least 2025. The UK aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce has already dropped out of the race to create engines for the new aircraft – although that’s probably more to do with the problems that the manufacturer caused the 787 programme.
Meanwhile, addressing rumors that Delta was eyeing up a joint bid with Britain’s easyJet for bankrupt Italian airline Alitalia, Bastain said that no decision had yet been made. According to Reuters, Bastian said the numbers were “pretty large” and “not the kind of numbers that we’re considering, just to quell any concerns.”
Alitalia was placed into administration in June 2017 after equity partner Etihad Airways pulled the plug on the chronically loss-making carrier. Since then, the Italian government has kept Alitalia afloat with bridge loans paid for by the Italian taxpayer. The original plan had been to offload the carrier as fast as possible but a change in government has seen delay after delay and no sign of Alitalia being sold anytime soon.