Delta to sell two 767-300s

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Delta Air Lines is seeking to sell two Boeing 767-300s but insists it has no plans to cut from its fleet any additional 767s, which form the backbone of the carrier's still expanding transatlantic operation.

Industry sources attending the Cargo Facts 2008 aircraft symposium say Delta recently put on the market two 767s and are actively trying to find new homes for the aircraft by the end of this year. Several sources expect Delta to shed more 767s in the lead up to or immediately following its planned merger with Northwest.

Sources say Northwest is also looking to sell several Boeing 757s before the end of this year. The two carriers are preparing to merge by year-end and are now jointly looking at what changes may be required to their merged network and fleet.

Speaking to ATI at this week's Cargo Facts 2008 aircraft symposium, Delta managing director of network planning Joe Esposito confirms two of the carrier's 767-300s are for sale. He says the aircraft are available from November, when Delta will remove them from its transatlantic schedule, but adds there are no plans to sell any additional widebodies later this year or in 2009.

Esposito told the conference 767s has been a key component to Delta's transformation since entering bankruptcy in 2005. The transformation has seen Delta shift from a domestic-focused to an international-focused carrier. Esposito says Delta's network today is 41% international, compared to 24% in 2005.

He says this shift was made possible by moving the bulk of Delta's 767 fleet from domestic to international operations. According to ATI's ACAS database, Delta now operates just over 100 767s - a mix of -300s, -300ERs and -400s.

Esposito says Delta plans to continue to increase international capacity. He points out that in the fourth quarter Delta's domestic mainline capacity will be down 14% year-over-year and its regional capacity will be down 20% but international capacity will be up 15%.

Delta is dropping a few European services, including Atlanta-Vienna and New York JFK-London Gatwick. But Esposito says this is only driving a slight drop in capacity, which under Delta's original plan was going to increase between 17% and 19% in the fourth quarter.

"We've scaled back a few percentage points but nothing to derail our [international expansion] strategy," Esposito says. "The domestic system is really where the weakness is."

But several analysts and consultants predict US carriers including Delta will need to start cutting international capacity next year. For example, Seabury Group managing director James Higgins told Cargo Facts attendees: "Overall international capacity for US carriers is still growing. I think starting in the first quarter of next year international growth for US carriers will turn negative."

Nearly every US carrier implemented earlier this month significant domestic capacity cuts which resulted in a couple of hundred aircraft being removed from service, mainly old-generation Boeing 737s, Boeing MD-80s and small regional jets. Higgins expects transatlantic capacity, which increased significantly this summer following the implementation of EU-US open skies, will be cut next. This could lead to a flood of 757s and 767s becoming available as these two aircraft types are used for the majority of US carrier-operated transatlantic services.

But Esposito tells ATI "we really are more bullish" than Higgins and Delta, which is now by far the largest US carrier across the Atlantic, sees no need to cut transatlantic capacity. He says the two 767-300s have become surplus to Delta's needs mainly because it has been taking delivery of new Boeing 777-200LRs.

Esposito says Delta also plans to continue using over the Atlantic most of the 13 ex-American Airlines 757s it added to its fleet earlier this year. Delta began operating all 13 of these 757s on European routes this summer, freeing up 767s to launch new longer-haul routes to Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Esposito says Delta will redeploy a couple of these aircraft to launch new services to Fortaleza and Recife in Brazil but otherwise the 757s will continue to operate to Europe.

Esposito says if any additional aircraft are cut from Delta's fleet this year, it will be more regional jets. So far Delta has unveiled plans to remove 70 regional jets from its network. "It will actually be north of that when we complete our business plan this year," Esposito reveals.