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Delta, Boeing confirm big 737 Max order after 11-year ‘drought’

July 18, 2022 Updated Mon., July 18, 2022 at 9:53 p.m.

A Delta airlines Boeing 737 MAX is shown at Los Angeles International Airport on June 19, 2022.   (Tribune News Service )
A Delta airlines Boeing 737 MAX is shown at Los Angeles International Airport on June 19, 2022.  (Tribune News Service )
By Dominic Gates Seattle Times

FARNBOROUGH, England – As a top Delta executive confirmed an expected order at the Farnborough Air Show for 100 Boeing 737 Max 10s – with options to purchase another 30 on similar terms – he said it was a “delicate moment” that marked a positive turn in a relationship that had gone awry.

Mahendra Nair, senior vice president at Delta responsible for its aircraft fleet, also declared the commonality of the Max 10 cockpit systems with other 737s “the biggest factor that drove the decision” to buy.

With that, Nair offered full support for Boeing’s position that Congress should act to ensure that the jetmaker can get this largest Max model certified without upgrading its systems.

The “delicate moment” was the return of this major U.S. airline to Boeing after a substantial break.

Although Delta has bought Boeing planes for 50 years, “for the last 11 years there was a little bit of a drought,” said Nair.

Since 2011, Delta has bought just 30 Boeing planes, while buying hundreds of Airbus jets.

The low point came in 2017 when Boeing made an ill-advised and failed attempt to have the government impose tariffs to stop Airbus from selling its A220 jet to Delta.

From then until Monday, Delta hadn’t bought a single Boeing plane.

But at the Farnborough signing ceremony, Nair said the Max purchase marks “an inflection point in the relationship with Boeing.”

By his side, Boeing sales chief Ihssane Mounir said Delta and Boeing had a continued partnership even through those lean sales years as the jetmaker serviced Delta’s fleet of older 737s, 757s and 767s.

“When you look at the relationship holistically, there was a lot going on, on the positive (side),” said Mounir.

Nair said Boeing has worked on this sale since 2020 and has been very transparent with Delta about the significant changes it had to make to this version of the Max – including adding a third measure of a key data point called the angle of attack because the European air safety regulator was not content with just two.

Delta’s concern was that those changes might make the cockpit different from the other 737s so that pilots would have to train separately for it.

It isn’t. Inside the Max 10 parked on the side of the Farnborough airfield Monday, Todd Abraham, the test pilot who ferried the jet from Seattle, said the Max 10 handles exactly like the other Maxes and that there are no instrument panel differences.

The angle of attack and other small tweaks to the systems “have zero impact on normal operations,” Abraham said.

Delta’s chief pilot came to Seattle to check out the plane.

“We feel pretty comfortable about the ability for our pilots to get trained on the 737-10 and it offering commonality,” Nair said.

He then directly addressed the safety and political question that has produced uncertainty about the Max 10.

It is now highly unlikely that the Max 10 will be certified by year end.

This is a major issue, because an FAA reform law passed in 2020 requires that any plane certified from next year forward must have the most modern system for alerting the crew when something goes wrong.

The 737 doesn’t meet that standard.

And Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun raised the possibility this month that the Max 10 might have to be canceled if Congress doesn’t act to extend the certification deadline.

Nair waded right into the politics, saying it’s essential to Delta that the Max 10 have a common cockpit with both the other Maxes and the older 737s.“I would even urge everybody, Congress, the FAA, to consider the fact that that commonality is the bellwether for us,” he said. “That commonality is what will help us incorporate this airplane into our fleets.”

Delta has 236 previous model 737 NGs in its fleet.

The much larger Max 10s will replace some of the older ones as those retire.

When all the Maxes are delivered, that will expand the total Delta 737 fleet to about 300 airplanes with a common cockpit.

The airline will take delivery of the Max 10s from 2025 to 2029 and configure them with 182 seats, 29% of which will be higher-fare premium seats.

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