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Originally published Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 6:24 PM

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Delta goes with Airbus over Boeing for 40 jets

Delta Air Lines purchases the widebody Airbus A330-300 and single-aisle A321 over competitors from Boeing.

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Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Richard Anderson bypassed the newest jets in favor of 40 older, cheaper models as he refreshes the most-diverse fleet of any U.S. carrier.

In purchasing 40 Airbus planes from aircraft families that have been in production for two decades, Anderson probably got a discount for Delta of “well over 50 percent” off the $5.6 billion list price, said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group.

Delta chose the widebody Airbus A330-300 and single-aisle A321 over competitors from Boeing, which built the majority of planes in the airline’s fleet. Deliveries will start in 2015 on 10 A330-300 jets, a plane Delta already flies.

The next year, Delta will add the first of 30 A321s, a model new to its fleet, the company said Wednesday in a statement. It was only Delta’s second Airbus order ever, the last being 21 years ago.

The A330 is being supplanted as Airbus’ signature twin-engine widebody by the A350, which made its first test flight this year and promises greater range and passenger capacity. Planes in the A320 family are being fitted with new engines, and the A321s being ordered by Delta will arrive after Airbus begins offering the so-called neo variant.

While Delta may be giving up some of the operating-cost efficiency of newer models, the airline is getting that money back through a lower purchase price, said Fred Lowrance, an analyst with Avondale Partners. “Those aren’t the ‘hot’ planes these days,” he said.

Airbus lists the A330-300 at $239.4 million and offers the A321 for $107.3 million, according to the company’s published prices.

Executives at Delta weren’t made available to elaborate on the deal.

Delta inherited about 160 Airbus planes when it bought Northwest Airlines in 2008, and those jets now make up one-fifth of the fleet for the carrier.

Aboulafia called it one of the “least heterogeneous” aircraft lineups in the industry. Delta turned that into an advantage by seeking “bottom-feeder prices, current or end-of- production-life jets, coupled with lots of unloved but perfectly good used jets,” Aboulafia said.

While some carriers have exclusively bought planes from just one manufacturer in the belief that it’s more efficient for maintenance, spare parts, crew training and operational costs, Delta’s Anderson says a mixed fleet means better deals. Delta flies wide- and narrow-body models from both Boeing and Airbus, as well as Boeing’s 747 jumbo jet.

Delta has an order for 18 Dreamliners on its books, a 2005 order that was inherited when it merged with Northwest Airlines. However, in 2010, as the 787 program stumbled through extended delays, Delta pushed out its Dreamliner order by a dozen years and won’t take the planes until 2020-2022.

Delta is also leasing 88 used Boeing 717 narrowbodies from Southwest Airlines, which agreed to cover the $100 million cost of repainting the planes and refurbishing the interiors to seal the deal.

Delta’s purchase also helps Airbus extend the life of the 20-year-old A330 program, which gained momentum in recent years in part because of Boeing’s delays on the 787. Airbus has sought to enhance the performance of the A330, which will seat 293 passengers in two classes at Delta.

“We’re aware that they’ve selected a different model,” said Tim Bader, a Boeing spokesman. “They’re a very important customer to us, one that’s got more than 500 Boeing airplanes in their fleet.”

Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates contributed to this report.

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