Delta Air Lines has agreed an exclusive 20-year fleet-acquisition plan with Boeing, covering the potential purchase of up to 644 aircraft, and launching the stretched 767-400 as part of the initial order phase. The deal includes 106 firm orders, 124 options and 414 "rolling options".

Despite "fierce competition" from Airbus, Boeing had several trump cards, according to Harry Alger, Delta's executive vice-president of operations, such as the flexibility to make "last-minute" changes of aircraft type, including widebody to narrowbody and vice versa. The 767-400, which was being pitched against the Airbus A330, will provide commonality with the airline's existing 757 and 767 fleets. Alger says: "Boeing was a clear winner with respect to the entire package- mission capability, the financial issues and the strategic issues."

The first part of the plan includes the 106 firm orders, valued at $6.7 billion, covering deliveries between 1998 and 2006. The bulk of these are for next-generation 737s, which will initially replace 727-200s, beginning in August 1998. Some 70 CFM International CFM56-7-powered 737s have been ordered, with all three new models (-600/700/800) expected to form part of the initial batch. If all options and rolling options are exercised for this and other types contained in the order, deliveries will extend to 2018.

The 767-400 is launched with firm orders for 21 aircraft, with deliveries scheduled for between 2000 and 2001, completing the replacement plan for the airline's Lockheed L-1011 TriStars. A further ten 767-300ERs have also been ordered, for delivery between 1998 and 1999. The airline's existing 767-200/300s include Pratt & Whitney and General Electric-engined aircraft, although most recent deliveries have been P&W-powered. An engine selection between the two US manufacturers has not been announced.

Delta also took the opportunity to add to its 757 orders, with a firm deal for five aircraft and commitments for 110. Although Delta's 757 fleet is P&W-powered, no selection is understood to have been made for the new orders, with R-R competing against P&W.

The airline has also taken options on ten 777-200s, but stopped short of placing a firm contract. "We took the opportunity to negotiate options on 777s at a fixed-base price, to ensure its availability to Delta," says Alger. All the "big-three" engine manufacturers are in the running.

The impact of the deal on the newer, non-Boeing, aircraft in Delta's fleet is not clear. Delta's McDonnell Douglas MD-11s appear to be untouched for the moment, but the fate of its 16 MD-90s, plus 15 outstanding orders, seems more gloomy. Boeing, which should complete the take-over of MDC this year, is believed to have organised a trade-in deal for the MD-90s. The future of 120 MDC MD-88s in Delta's fleet must also be in question.

Source: Flight International