Delta inherited an order for 18 Boeing 787 Dreamliners from Northwest Airlines, with which they merged in 2010. Delta had repeatedly delayed taking delivery of these aircraft, pushing the delivery date back to sometime in 2020, years after American and United had taken delivery of their 787’s. It just didn’t seem like Delta wanted these aircraft, given the repeated delivery delays and the fact that Delta had placed an order for 25 A350’s, the 787’s biggest competitor.
Well, it’s not exactly surprising that Delta today cancelled their 787 order. For context, these orders had been placed in 2005, so imagine an airline seriously considering taking delivery of an aircraft 15 years after they (or their predecessor) ordered it– I wouldn’t take it as a sign that they really wanted that aircraft.
Moreover, what does this mean for Delta’s relationship with Boeing in general? It seems Delta has been moving closer to Airbus in the past few years, deciding to replace many of their longhaul Boeing aircraft (some 767’s and 747’s) with new Airbus Aircraft, instead of the mix of 787-9’s and 777X’s Boeing proposed. In terms of narrowbody aircraft, Delta recently began taking delivery of the A321, making them the only one of the big three US airlines to not place orders for the 737 MAX to fill their needs for larger narrowbody aircraft. For context, Delta did not own a single Airbus aircraft before their merger with Northwest.
However, it seems as if Delta went out of their way to make it clear that they’re not drifting away from Boeing. Per the press release on the cancellation of the 787 order:
“Delta is one of the world’s largest operators of Boeing aircraft and our valued partnership with Boeing will remain strong as we safely and comfortably serve our customers across the world every day,” said Greg May, Senior Vice President – Supply Chain Management and Fleet. “This business decision is consistent with Delta’s fleet strategy to prudently address our widebody aircraft needs.”
While the cancellation of this order wasn’t really a huge surprise, it does certainly portend interesting developments in the Delta/Boeing relationship. Will we see a Delta/Boeing breakup soon? Probably not, but we’ll see.