Maintaining Airbus, Boeing Balance ‘Really Important,’ Delta CEO Says

Delta Air Lines A220-100
Credit: Delta Air Lines

NEW YORK—Delta Air Lines does not currently have plans for an aggressive shift in its fleet makeup between Boeing and Airbus, its top executive says. 

“We are always working with Airbus and Boeing, and you’re right, at the current time we’re taking primarily Airbus, but we’re excited to be getting the Boeing MAX in a couple of years,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian told Aviation Week on the sidelines of a Wings Club luncheon on May 17. “Keeping a balance between Boeing and Airbus product is really important to us.”

The carrier currently operates an in-service fleet of 445 Boeing and 411 Airbus aircraft, according to Aviation Week Network’s Fleet Discovery database, with 216 Airbus and 100 Boeing aircraft on order, comprising A321s, A330s, A350s, A220s and 737-10s. 

“We make our decisions on aircraft and spend patterns on the long cycle,” Bastian told the luncheon attendees, noting that the airline is paying cash for fleet investments and expects to make a minimum of $2 billion in free cash in 2023, with the goal of doubling that number in 2024. 

“The story of Delta is one of cash, one of free cash,” he added. So far in 2023, the airline has recorded the 20 highest cash sale days in company history, with nearly 60% of Delta’s revenues being non ticket-driven. Business travel levels are only about 80% recovered when compared to 2019—by traditional measure.

“But our economy is larger so that means we’re only probably about two-thirds of the way back,” Bastian added. 

Calling summer 2022 very much the summer of domestic travel, Bastian says this is the summer for international, with demand “off the charts.”

“The industry will have a chance to redeem itself a little bit from last summer,” Bastian added. “We all stretched ourselves well beyond, even though we all told ourselves not to do it. It’s hard not to do it when you see that demand that’s coming ... Last summer we weren’t very disciplined, we did everything we could to take in cash. This summer is going to be very much about staying disciplined.”

With a positive outlook that extends past the summer season—“even the early look into the fall is strong”—Bastian said its second quarter (Q2) performance is expected to come “pretty darn close” to Q2 2019. 

The Atlanta-based carrier is a part of the Capital Access Alliance, a coalition supporting recently introduced legislation pushing on federal restrictions at Washington Reagan National Airport to add more and longer flights. Though supportive of the effort, the airline is not yet naming any longer routes it would want to see added, should the bill pass. 

“We’re not ready to get that far yet,” Bastian told Aviation Week. “We just want to see greater access.”

Christine Boynton

Christine Boynton covers air transport in the Americas for Aviation Week Network.