Delta to avoid 50-seat jet maintenance with fleet restructuring

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Delta Air Lines says that it will avoid performing heavy maintenance on its 50-seat regional jets, as it moves away from the small jets.

"We're never going to do a heavy maintenance check on a 50-seater ever," says Ed Bastian, president of the Atlanta-based carrier, during an investor day today. By avoiding maintenance on these aircraft, Delta anticipates that it will save between $400 million and $500 million in expenses during the next three years, he says.

Brad Rawson, manager of network planning at SkyWest Airlines, said in September that maintenance costs on Bombardier CRJ200s increased significantly after about 40,000 cycles. He added that the airline would send aircraft to the "desert" unless the airframer came up with an affordable solution.

Delta is in the process of removing more than 200 50-seat regional jets - the vast majority are CRJ200s - from its feeder fleet and replacing them with 40 76-seat Bombardier CRJ900s and 88 110-seat Boeing 717-200s by 2015.

Executives describe both the deal with Bombardier for the CRJ900s and with Southwest Airlines for the 717s as positive to Delta's margins, during the investor day.

"The deal pays for itself in three years" and improve the airline's net debt, they say, in response to questions on the CRJ900 order that was announced earlier this month. The deal includes 40 of the type plus 30 options and guaranteed assistance from Bombardier to phase out 60 50-seat CRJ200s.

The airframer says that the deal is valued at $1.85 billion at list prices.

Richard Anderson, chairman and chief executive of Delta, says that the prices for Southwest-subsidiary AirTran Airways 717s were so good that they could not "pass it up".

Delta has reported that it will make total lease payments of $1.6 billion to Southwest for the aircraft in 2013 and 2014, $1.5 billion in 2015, $1.4 billion in 2016 and $8.8 billion in 2017 and beyond.