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Boeing's 777 Problem: Delta and Everyone Else Want Newer Planes

A Boeing 777 interior at the company's production facility in Everett, Wash.
A Boeing 777 interior at the company's production facility in Everett, Wash.Photograph by Mike Kane/Bloomberg

New airplane technology almost always trumps the old. The planes that are built today burn less fuel and need less maintenance than their predecessors. If you manufacture airplanes, however, this truism presents a tricky problem: How do you keep selling an older model after you announce its successor (PDF) as the latest and greatest thing to ever have reached the skies?

Boeing faces that issue with its 777, a jumbo jet that has become a well-liked staple of global airline fleets over the past 15 years. The 777 sales problem drew a fresh spotlight this week, when Delta Air Lines announced an order for 50 twin-aisle jets from Airbus, split between the A350 and A330neo models, to replace Delta’s aged 747 and 767-300 fleets.