Delta Air Lines will reduce seating capacity on its existing international Boeing 777 fleet as part of a planned retrofit of the airliners’ business class cabins.

The US major’s 777-200ERs currently offer 50 seats in business class. However, a seven-seat, or 14%, reduction will occur as a result of Delta’s decision to retrofit each aircraft with Contour Premium Aircraft Seating-manufactured fully-horizontal sleeper seats beginning in the fall of 2008, confirms airline.

Two new 777-200LRs being delivered to Delta in early 2008 will also feature the new business class seats. These ultra long range aircraft will be the first of their type to enter Delta’s fleet, after the carrier today confirmed it has earmarked two of five 777 unfilled delivery slots held with Boeing as -200LRs.

Despite the seat capacity reduction on the -200ERs, Delta believes “this [lie-flat] seat will attract a greater percentage of premium customers on international routes and subsequently will increase Delta’s international premium revenue”, says the airline’s spokesman, adding that capacity changes to the fleet’s economy class cabins are not planned at this time.

Delta also expects to offer a lie-flat business-class option on its 767 aircraft. However, a seat selection has not been announced, says Delta.

All modifications are expected to be completed by 2010.

The new seating is part of Delta’s larger plan to improve the in-flight offering on its international widebody fleet, which includes installing Panasonic digital in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems.

Delta claims it is the first US airline to announce fully-horizontal personal sleeper suites. American Airlines, meanwhile, is introducing lie-flat swivel beds and new enhanced IFE to its 767 and 777 business class cabins, and United Airlines plans to upgrade the first- and business-class seats on its international widebody fleet under a larger multi-year programme to revamp its entire premium travel experience.

“As we continue to grow to ultra long-haul destinations across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, we want to give our valued business class customers the utmost in comfort and entertainment,” says Delta chief operating officer Jim Whitehurst in a statement.

“The experience we’re creating for premium international travelers will offer an unmatched combination of privacy and comfort with the option to lie completely flat, unlike some competitors who offer an angled lie flat product.”