Delta Air Lines will invest in upgrades of its current fleet rather than ordering new aircraft, ahead of the delivery of four remaining orders in the first half of next year. The revelation throws further doubt on the airline's inherited order for Boeing 787s.

Speaking during a presentation at the Morgan Stanley Transportation Conference in Washington DC, the US carrier's chief financial officer, Hank Halter, said that after the merger of Delta with Northwest Airlines last year, the carrier had a combined operating fleet of almost 1,400 aircraft, including mainline and regional aircraft.

The carrier holds combined orders for 52 aircraft, including 25 Boeing 737-800s and two 777-200LRs, as well as seven A319/A320s and 18 787-8s ordered by Northwest before the merger. Halter says Delta's focus for the time being is making investments in its current fleet in areas such as audio/video on demand, Wi-Fi connectivity and lie-flat seats on its widebodies.

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

This strategy to keep the fleet constant for the foreseeable future re-emphasises the uncertainty about the inherited Northwest 787 order. The airline was among the launch customers for the twinjet, and had originally secured early delivery slots. In a regulatory filing last year, Delta did not include the 18 787s in its firm order schedule running to 2012.

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

Halter acknowledges 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".

Source: Flight International