Delta to hold steady on its fleet after 2010 deliveries

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After taking delivery of four aircraft during the first half of next year, Delta Air Lines plans to invest in upgrades of its current fleet rather than ordering new aircraft.

Carrier CFO Hank Halter made those comments earlier today during a presentation at the Morgan Stanley Transportation Conference.

Halter says that after the merger of Delta and Northwest Airlines last year, the carrier has a combined operating fleet of close to 1,400 aircraft including mainline and regional aircraft.

Delta's CFO says the carrier has financing in place for the four aircraft being delievered in 2010.

With the exception of some aircraft at Northwest, Delta has one of the youngest widebody fleets in the industry, says Halter, who adds Delta's focus for the time being is making investments in its current fleet. Those enhancements include audio video on demand, Wi-Fi connectivity and lie-flat seats on its widebody aircraft.

"We believe we can do that at a much more economical cost than re-fleeting an entire section of our aircraft," says Halter, who says after the four deliveries planned for next year "we don't have anything else".

He acknowledges that at some point in the future Delta will eventually need to supplement its fleet, "but for right now our fleet of 1,400 aircraft clearly meet the needs of our network".

Delta's strategy to keep its fleet constant for the foreseeable future after next year's deliveries reiterates uncertainty over an order Northwest placed for Boeing 787s prior to the merger.

Last year Delta in a regulatory filing did not include the 18 787s ordered by Northwest in its firm order schedule running to 2012.

Delta executives in the past have said the combined entity has Boeing 777s that offset requirements for the 787, and during the carrier's 2008 investor day CEO Richard Anderson said the carrier did not have the capital allocated to the 787 in its three year plan.

Delta still expects that it will receive a single operating certificate from the FAA for the combined entity by year's end. The company has also enlarged the monetary targets it expects from merger synergies this year from $500 million to $700 million.