Delta looks at Airbus A320 Jet for Boeing-dominated fleet
ATLANTA: Delta Air Lines Inc. will weigh adding a more fuel-efficient version of Airbus SAS's narrow-body A320 to a fleet historically dominated by Boeing Co. jets.
"Like everyone else, we'll look closer at the A320 to see if it might merit deeper consideration for our long-term fleet plans," Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson said late yesterday in a weekly recorded message to employees.
Airbus said earlier this week it will offer new engines for its single-aisle A320 aircraft series that can increase fuel efficiency by 15 percent. The planes will be available in 2016 and will compete with Boeing's narrow-body 737, the world's most widely flown airliner.
"We wish Boeing would do the same, but it doesn't look like the 737 will have much innovation in the coming years," Anderson said. Atlanta-based Delta is the second-biggest U.S. airline.
Boeing hasn't committed to offering new engines on the 737 or replacing the plane with an all-new jet, a spokesman for the Chicago-based company said this week. The business case for new engines is "not as compelling as we'd like to see," Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh said in October.
A Boeing spokesman, Jim Proulx, declined to comment today regarding Anderson's remarks.
"We're in regular contact with our customers about the value that the next-generation 737 brings to the market," Proulx said. "That said, we don't discuss the contents of conversations we may have with them."
Delta and Boeing have long had a close relationship, with jets built by the planemaker and other companies it acquired accounting for about two-thirds of Delta's fleet at the end of September. Boeing led a creditors committee during Delta's bankruptcy that successfully fended off a hostile takeover bid from US Airways Group Inc. in January 2007.
Delta has repeatedly said it doesn't plan to purchase many new planes in the immediate future, and is instead spending $1 billion on its existing fleet to add flat-bed seats and first-class cabins.
"While we're pretty happy with our fleet today, we're always watching changes in the capability of aircraft," Anderson said.
Delta's narrow-body jets include more than 100 MD88s that are about 20 years old on average, about 50 DC-9s that are 34 years old, and about 70 A320s that are 16 years old, according to a regulatory filing for the third quarter. The fleet totaled 821 planes, the filing showed. The carrier gained Airbus jets when it bought Northwest Airlines Corp. in 2008.
The new A320 will give airlines a choice between Pratt & Whitney's PurePower geared turbofan engine, the Leap-X from CFM International, a joint venture by General Electric Co. and Safran SA, or the existing engines.
Delta climbed 12 cents to $13.63 at 4:19 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Boeing fell 5 cents to $66.54.
Moreover, Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) said its traffic rose again in November, posting one of the highest gains since the return of consistent growth in May as the carrier continued to increase capacity.
Airlines of all stripes have been reporting improving traffic as demand for air travel among both consumers and business customers bounces back from the recession's weak levels. Before the recession, carriers struggled with record high energy prices.
Delta's traffic rose 7.5%, driven by an 11% increase in traffic abroad while domestic traffic was up 5.3%.
That is the second-highest increase in traffic since it has turned positive, outshone only by October's 8.6% climb.
Delta's capacity was up 7.5%. Load factor-a measure of plane occupancy-was down a tenth of a percentage point to 79.5%.
This fall, Delta lost its title as the world's biggest carrier after the merger of United Airlines and Continental Airlines to form United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL). Delta plans to spend more than $2 billion through 2013 to lure travelers with new flat-bed seats, video on demand and upgraded facilities in hotly contested markets such as New York.
Its most recent quarterly results beat analysts' expectations and it predicted its first fourth-quarter profit in a decade. -Bloomberg