Delta Said to Study Order for $4.3 Billion in Wide-Bodies

Delta Air Lines Inc. is considering buying as many as 20 wide-body jets from Airbus SAS or Boeing Co. with a list value of at least $4.3 billion, people familiar with the matter said.

The order under study is for 10 to 20 Airbus A330s or Boeing 777s, said the people, who declined to be identified because the negotiations are private. Deliveries would start within a few years, one person said. Delta already has both plane types in its fleet.

Purchasing the jets would bridge Delta’s wide-body needs until the end of the decade, when Airbus’s more efficient A350 and Boeing’s 787-10 Dreamliner will have been in service for several years and would have any kinks worked out, one person said. Delta Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson has said he prefers buying established models with proven reliability, which are cheaper over the long term even if they consume more fuel.

“Delta has the most contrarian fleet strategy in the industry,” said Richard Aboulafia, a vice president at Teal Group, a consulting firm in Fairfax, Virginia. “Others have exuberance for the fuel efficiency race, and Delta is saying there are other ways of getting to the same goal. And it’s working for them.”

Plane Prices

Prices for the Airbus and Boeing jets vary according to the planes’ configurations. Airbus lists the A330 at as little as $216.1 million for the -200 model, while the 777-200ER is the cheapest in that family, at $258.8 million. Updated versions cost more, though airlines typically buy at a discount.

Delta signaled earlier this month that it might consider new twin-aisle planes, when President Ed Bastian said at a JPMorgan Chase & Co. conference that the airline may find “opportunities in the marketplace selectively to add to our wide bodies.”

Bastian said Atlanta-based Delta would talk to both Airbus and Boeing. Mary Anne Greczyn, a spokeswoman for Airbus, and Marc Birtel, a spokesman for Boeing, declined to comment on any discussions with Delta.

The 777, Chicago-based Boeing’s largest twin-engine jet, debuted in 1995, a year after the A330. The 777-200ER and A330-200 seat about 270 and 240 people, respectively, and are typically used on long-haul routes.

Today, Bastian said Delta hasn’t decided on long-term aircraft needs such as the 787 or A350.

“I don’t see that there’s going to be a need for making a decision on the long-term wide-body fleet anytime soon,” he said at a press briefing in London.

Airbus Talks

Delta also has held talks with Boeing and Toulouse, France-based Airbus about buying $1 billion or more of new single-aisle jets as the planemakers wind down production of those planes in favor of upgraded versions that use less fuel, people familiar with that matter said in January.

That purchase would involve as many as 30 Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s before those planes’ successors -- the A320neo and 737 Max -- arrive later this decade, the people said.

Anderson also has opted for used planes in recent years as replacements for some of his oldest jets, forgoing the fuel efficiency of newer models while saving money on the price.

Delta is becoming the biggest operator of Boeing’s out-of-production 717 single-aisle jet under a May 2012 sublease agreement with Southwest Airlines Co. to take 88 of them. A month earlier, Delta said it bought seven Boeing MD-90s from Japan Airlines Co.

Delta had 717 jets in its main fleet as of December, 158 of them wide-bodies. Of those, 80 percent are made by Boeing.

Delta slid 1.3 percent to $16.84 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 42 percent this year, compared with a 8.4 percent increase for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

(Updates share price in last paragraph.)
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