Delta Air Lines wants Boeing to examine ways of boosting the 777-200LR's range to enable the airline to serve Australia directly from the US East Coast.
The Boeing twinjet is already the world's longest-range airliner, with the capability of flying missions of up to 17,500km (9,450nm), and Delta executive vice-president for network planning and revenue management Glenn Hauenstein says the airline has informally asked the airframer to study possible modifications to allow even longer-range, full-payload performance.
Hauenstein, who is the architect of Delta's plan to become a global carrier from its Atlanta and New York Kennedy hubs, says that the carrier wants a 777 that can "reach Australia [non-stop] from our US East Coast hubs".
Speaking to Flight International's sister publication Airline Business during the delivery flight of Delta's first 777-200LR, Hauenstein said that the aircraft could be fitted with additional fuel capacity to achieve this. He added that it might be possible to tweak its General Electric GE 90-110B1 engines.
Delta's request follows an earlier approach to Boeing from Qantas about extending the twinjet's range. The Australian carrier - which is not a 777 customer - has previously talked of a "hub-buster" -200LR derivative capable of operating non-stop between Sydney and London with an economic payload.
Delta will also take a second -200LR in March and will deploy the twinjets on its longest route, between New York Kennedy and Mumbai, India.
They replace a shorter-range 777-200ER model, which faces weight restrictions on the route. The -200LR's greater payload will enable it to carry a full load of cargo on the route, which Hauenstein says will add as much as $10 million a year in revenue.