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Delta encourages Boeing to launch NMA

Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian is encouraging Boeing to launch its proposed New Mid-market Airplane (NMA).

"We are still very interested in it," he tells investors at the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation & Industrials Conference on the aircraft today. "Boeing hasn't decided if it's going to launch that aircraft – we hope they will."

Delta has upwards of 200 aircraft that it could replace with the NMA, says Bastian citing both its Boeing 757 and 767 fleets.

The Atlanta-based carrier operates 204 aircraft in the 757 and 767 type, including 111 aircraft in the 757-200 series, and 56 in the 767-300ER series, Cirium's Fleets Analyzer shows.

Boeing had planned to make a decision on the NMA this year but recently postponed that to 2020, in a move that took many in the industry by surprise. The airframer maintains that, if it launches the new aircraft, the type would debut in 2025.

The widebody NMA would seat 200-270 passengers with a range of 4,000-5,000nm (7,400-9,300km), aiming directly at the heart of the so-called middle-of-the-market between Boeing's largest 737 Max and smallest 787.

Airbus, for its part, is not sitting idly by. The European airframer delivered its first A321LR, a higher-weight and longer-range version of the A321neo aimed at the transatlantic 757 market, at the end of 2018, and is pitching the A330-800neo and -900neo to carriers as a 767-300ER replacement.

Delta has firm orders for 35 A330-900neos with the first due in the next few months. The airline plans to introduce them on international flights from its Seattle Tacoma hub in July.

United Airlines continues to evaluate both the A330neo and NMA proposal for its mid-market needs, while American Airlines opted for additional 787-8s to replace its 767s.

"We looked at the A330-800neo for a 767 replacement, and an A330-900neo for an A350 replacement, and we looked at the 787-8 and the 787-9," American chief financial officer Derek Kerr told employees on the decision in April 2018. "We came to the conclusion that the right answer for us, from a commonality standpoint and an operations standpoint, was to go with Boeing."

Bastian's comments today are not the first time he has expressed strong interest in the NMA. Last June, he told an audience at the US Chamber of Commerce that Delta had held discussions with the airframer on "being a potential launch customer" of the aircraft.

While he does not make a similar statement today, Bastian is emphatic that Delta remains in discussions with Boeing on the NMA with the hope that it will launch the new green-sheet aircraft.

"Hopefully they'll decide to go," he repeats.

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