Delta Air Lines will seek proposals from regional carriers to operate 30 to 40 70-seat regional jet aircraft in the coming months, says chief executive Richard Anderson.
The aircraft are already operating in the Delta Connection fleet and will be redistributed under a competitive tender process, says the Atlanta-based carrier.
Anderson says that the new contract will be determined by both cost and service quality, as he emphasised improvements in the passenger experience during a speech at the Wings Club in New York on 22 May.
"We've got a lot of regional jets coming up for bid," he says.
Delta's 70-seat regional aircraft fleet at the end of March included 82 Bombardier CRJ700s operated by ExpressJet Airlines, GoJet Airlines and SkyWest Airlines, and 20 Embraer 170s operated by Compass Airlines and Shuttle America, according to the airline.
None of these contracts expire until October 2017, based on Flightglobal research. However, the carrier could renegotiate some of the contracts as part of its plan to reduce the number of 50-seat jets in the fleet to 150 by the end of 2015.
Delta is limited in the number of additional large regional jets it can add to its fleet. Its pilots contract limits the number of 70-seat aircraft to 102 airframes and 76-seat aircraft to 223.
Asked whether Delta subsidiary Pinnacle Airlines would get the redistributed flying, Anderson says: "Whether Pinnacle gets the business or not, even though its wholly owned, is going to depend on what they bid."
The airline bought Memphis-based Pinnacle as part of the regional carrier's bankruptcy reorganisation earlier this year.