Air Berlin 787 cancellation potentially gives Boeing big advantage in Delta order competition

The announcement last week that AirBerlin canceled orders for 15 Boeing 787s gives Boeing an unexpected, big advantage in the contest for a big wide-body order from Delta Air Lines–depending on when Delta wants the airplanes.

The competition apparently has been narrowed to the Airbus A350-900 and the Boeing 787-9, according to Flight Global. Based on this article, the Airbus A330-900 neo has been eliminated, which if true is a blow to the fledgling program in which Airbus had counted on Delta to be a launch customer.

Outside of the OEMs and Delta, it’s not known when Delta wants 50 widebodies. But the A350 and 787 are essentially sold out through the end of the decade, though both OEMs can typically find delivery slots for important campaigns such as this one by over-booking or persuading other customers to move their delivery positions.

Airbus has plenty of slots for the A330neo from 4Q2017, when entry-into-service is planned. But with the apparent elimination of the A330neo from the competition, delivery schedule becomes important–and the AirBerlin cancellation works to Boeing’s advantage.

The cancellation by AirBerlin of its order for 15 787s potentially gives Boeing an advantage in the competition for a wide-body order from Delta Air Lines. Source: Ascend data base.

The cancellation by AirBerlin of its order for 15 787s potentially gives Boeing an advantage in the competition for a wide-body order from Delta Air Lines. Note: the arrow for A350 EIS should point to 4Q2014, not 4Q2015. Source: Ascend data base.

The Ascend data base shows AirBerlin’s deliveries were to begin in 2018, the year the A330neo probably was available for Delta, following 121 commitments placed at the Farnborough Air Show by other customers–plus letters of intent for 15 more. AirBerlin’s cancellation provides Boeing with delivery slots without having to double book or persuade others to give up or defer slots.

Another factor: the 787-9 is powered by either the GE Aviation GEnx or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine; the A350 is powered by the RR Trent XWB. Delta is a big GE/CFM engine user, and GE is very aggressive in providing and rewriting future and current engine maintenance agreements. RR is notoriously stingy on its agreements. Delta Tech Ops likes doing its own maintenance and GE/CFM appears more willing to grant this than RR.

Delta is expected to make a decision by the end of the year.

When the A330neo was in the mix, and absent delivery slots for the A350 and 787, we thought Airbus had the advantage. Now we believe this has tipped toward Boeing.

58 Comments on “Air Berlin 787 cancellation potentially gives Boeing big advantage in Delta order competition

    • Nope, like the A320 now, it beat Boeing to the punch.

      In this case the late A350 start leaves this open to Boeing (as well as AB cancellation and the Qantas deferrels)

      The top part is that the A330NEO did not sell to what should have been a slam dunk customer.

      • Well, A330neo didn’t sell this time round. At ~50 frames, this isn’t going to be DL’s last widebody order.
        As for delivery slots – EK’s A350s would have started arriving in 2019. AB’s 787-9s would have started arriving in 2017. So yes, Boeing has a ~2-year head start there (give or take – depending on where exactly in 2017 and 2019 those slots are). But then, of course, DL has had – via its merger with Northwest – 18 orders for the 787 for quite a while and in 2010 (within a year or so of receiving the first one) deferred these until 2020.
        Surely, if early delivery slots were all that important to DL, they could have tried to pull those forward again (possibly via conditions in the deferral contract), or not have deferred them to begin with (or not by as much).

      • As an announcement hasn’t been made yet, I don’t know how you can be so confident in your statement. Maybe Delta are putting a little disinformation out – it seems very odd that having pressed Airbus to do the A330Neo they have now lost interest in it!

        • Mr. Hamilton,

          Really? Delta was pining for a GEnx NEO? That’s interesting. Is it because of the aforementioned RR “stinginess” on maintenance? Because i can only imagine how it must be with RR powered 777s in their fleet. If DL was pushing for a GE A330, then that may not bode well for a NEO in Delta’s fleet, notwithstanding what Richard Anderson was saying for months. BTW, he has been very quiet lately…..

  1. “absent delivery slots for the A350 and 787”

    Do we know when deliveries should start? Because there are also 70 Emirates slots available, starting in 2019.

  2. Previous posters, the first para of the story says that Boeing may have an advantage “depending on when Delta wants the airplanes.” I don’t have the answer to that one. If it’s 2019, then I would guess Airbus has a good shot. But VS operating the B789 could be an interesting twist.

    • It could be 2020 as well. After all, DL already has 787-8s on order with delivery in 2020.

  3. I thought the early EK A-350 slots were already filled with other customers moving up in the production schedule?
    DL already has 18 B-787s on delayed order (inherited from NW) for delivery beginning in 2019 or 2020. DL also recently ordered 10 A-333s.

  4. On the flip side, the VS 789’s are RR powered. Of course, I’d imagine DL’s not too directly/actively looking to do work on their partner’s engines in any case, but the commonality there wouldn’t exist. Extrapolating to the GE powered version’s economics shouldn’t be too big of a stretch though.

  5. Interesting developments indeed. Nothing is for certain until the orders are placed. This business is full of unthinkable twists and turns. I don’t see the 787-9 nor the A350-900 as wise replacement for the large numbers of 767’s which fly to Europe and South America. Unnecessary range. But then again, it is Delta. They fly MD-80’s and 717’s.

    Qatar also indicated that it may purchase more A350’s and could come from the slots passed on by Emirates.

    • “This business is full of unthinkable twists and turns.”

      This order for 50 jets should also include the 744 replacements. It looks like DL will upsize the 767 and downsize the 744. Some people don’t rule out a combined order.

      • Not sure if the future availability of the a350-1000 might not help Airbus, 789 is a lot smaller than a 744 and 787-10 short on legs, so going for only the 787 assumes a big shrink in traffic to some slot limited airports, unless DL are thinking of A380s as well. (Now who are Amadeo’s future A380 customers?) An a350-900 and 1000 would go closer to covering both.

        • RA wants the 744 replacements to be smaller than the 744. An ambitious EIS date for the A351 is 2017. With a back log of 169+- a top of less ambitious production schedule, the availability of the A351 is not favorable. The 2018 delivery slots from AB look more attractive. I doubt the 787-10 is on his radar as the range is short as you mentioned. What could happen is they grab the next best thing to a 744, the 77W. It gives them the long legs of the 744, the reduction in capacity that he wants and sooner than any other similar widebody. In that case he probably wouldn’t buy but lease, 10-12 years.

          The A380 is NOT on the table for DL. They’re not getting rid of one quad to grab another quad.

        • I agree A380 is unlikely for DL but they already have 787s on order, if they want more they would convert 8s to 9s and move them forward. 789s and a350-1000 later is possibly most likely, but as you note, if Boeing will give away 77Ws, which Boeing need to move some of, then that might do to get the 787 order put forward again.

        • “RA wants the 744 replacements to be smaller than the 744.”

          I haven’t seen that statement anywhere. It seems he has upgraded his VLA fleet when everyone thought he would phase them out.

          Replacing one of the daily 747 flights to Asia by something smaller is surrendering market share in a booming market.

      • Very true. It was heavily speculated that delta would go for a combo order of A330Neo and discounted -300ER. Perhaps this comment referred only to long haul, i.e777-200ER and 747’s.

  6. EK would have started taking delivery in 2019. The 2018 delivery slots from Air Berlin along with the GE engine contract is good reason to look at the 787-9. The range, steady production and the fact Virgin will be flying it soon also help. EK’s old order may be under negotiations with other airlines and if they are there’s no telling how the frames will be allocated.

  7. So the size difference between 787-9 and a350-900 doesn’t come into this equation at all ?

  8. “The competition apparently has been narrowed to the Airbus A350-900 and the Boeing 787-9…”
    That’s not correct. DL is very much interested in the A330neo. Given the early 2018 slots and the low, comparatively speaking, pricing the A330neo presents a formidable proposition. I would not bet against it.
    DL already has 787s on order, which they pushed back to 2020. If they really wanted them earlier, I am sure there would be no need to launch a tender process.

    • No, the A350-800 will be deffered to the 1000 and the A350-800 like the 787-3 (current iteration anyway) will never be produced

      • “No, the A350-800 will be deffered to the 1000”

        – I didn’t quite get what you meant by that.

        The cancellation of the remaining A350-800s while offering the A330neos as an alternative to those customers, would free up A350 positions for either of the remaining models, -900 or -1000. Almost all other A350-800 customers were given the -900 in its place instead. QR converted 20 of it to 17 -1000s and 3 -900s.

        • The 800 was supposed to come out after the 900, the 1000 latter.

          Despite insisting it would stay that way, Aibus went to the 1000.

          so, initially deffered and they continue to insist they will make the 800 but thats is nonesense, its a dead bird just like the 787-3, though they talk about a different setup now as well.

  9. And we thought the mixed messages came solely from the heads of ME carriers? I’m not sure I understand what Delta stands for now, does it want new planes at premium cost or will make do with second hand cheaper planes? Or just cheaper planes? 330 neo was the shoe-in, or at least, so we thought.

    Delta is playing hardball. Whoever wins the order is probably going to have to take all those old planes 767s n 330ceos as part of the deal. Split order me thinks.

  10. Lest we forget the first few A359’s coming off the FAL will be 3.3 metric tons overweight. On the flip side, the 789 is underweight. Those range figures for the A359 don’t account for the overweight figures. From Wiki 789 – 8300 A359 – 7750

    • I doubt this will still be true when Delta gets its planes as the weight reduction is already planned for very low line numbers of the 350.

      • I don’t doubt that either but right now, its an issue that affects the current range. THing is RA will decide based on all the info that we know and the info that we don’t know.

        • I would be surprised if customers go by what is delivered today for an order in the middle term future. ( except today’s shortcomings are intrinsic and can’t/won’t be fixed. Not even Boeing is so blase )

        • MSN 17 is supposed to be the point where the third major break to introduce lighter parts occurs. MSN 14 is in FAL right now, and MSN 17 has a delivery date in 2015. It’d be pretty easy for Airbus to prove to Delta that the weight reductions will occur as planned – after all, many of the parts will already be fabricated. Can’t see that being a major issue.

        • @Rotate that makes no sense, so DL will be consider the weight of today’s A350, when the weight of the A350 there’ll be getting will be well in line? One wonders how Boeing got any orders in the past for 787s in the future with their 7 TON overweight 787s

    • An 2020 A350 will be significant lighter than an 2014 model.

      Regarding the range, as mentioned above you can’t compare Boeing and Airbus on a 1:1 basis. Both OEM’s use a different definition for their range figures.

  11. What is amazing is that this tender replaces 747-400s. That part makes no sense unless they are flying hugely empty. I can see the 747s going away, but not to a 787-9 or an A350-900

    It still seems there is room for 777CEO (and great discounts coming up which is a Delta sinature as of late)

    • Agreed. The 77W fits the bill for the best 744 replacement but if he chooses the 77W it would be under the premise of a stop gap for a future 777x order. Why? The only competing aircraft to the 77W (351)enters service in 2017/2018. A year later the 777x debuts and after another 12months of certs, you have your 77W 2.0

      Who knows. The 77W might be the wild card in this RFP.

  12. If it is really between the 789 and A359, the A359 offers more transpacific range and cargo capability. An airline always looks at future growth scenarios. The availability of the A350-10 seems more suitable for delta network requirements then the 787-10 in future scenarios.

    Delta flies the 767 7 abreast and 777 9 abreast. Now going for the 787 narrow 9 abreast cabin Trans Pacific means reduced passenger satisfaction. The 9 abreast A350 is wider, an inch per seat and wider aisles matter on 10-14 hour flights.

    I think the 767 will stay in the delta fleet for some time. Some are replaced by A330s.

  13. So,availability is an issue?Boeing struggling to make money on the 787 and Delta declaring they’re not prepared to pay very much.As both a350 and 787 effectively sold out ,Airline Execs getting far too cocky.Grind the price down & let the otherone get this deal

    • There are openings due to various cancellations and Boeing would try to make those anyway, as would Airbus.

  14. Now going for the 787 narrow 9 abreast cabin Trans Pacific means reduced passenger satisfaction. The 9 abreast A350 is wider, an inch per seat and wider aisles matter on 10-14 hour flights.

    According to Airbus, the A350, is 5 inches wider than the 787. Divide 5 inches by 9 seats and two aisles and the result is 0.45 inches, a insignificant amount. It’s less than the width of my little finger. That’s 0.225 inches on either side of you. Most passengers won’t even notice it, and no one would go out of their way to fly on an A350, for such a miniscule difference.

    Calling it the A350XWB, for extra wide body is a joke. The should have called it the A350SWB for slightly wider body. It’s far narrower than the 777, so maybe they should have called it the XNB for extra narrow body.

    This is from the Airbus website:
    Airbus’ right-sized interior cross-section for the A350 XWB Family is five inches larger than the nearest competitor, allowing operators to comfortably accommodate economy class passengers at eight-, nine- or 10-abreast arrangements.

    Comfortably accommodate passengers at 10-abreast in an A350? LOL!

    • Yeah, i find the Airbus proclamation that 10 abreast in an A350 as “comfortable” highly entertaining. it would be as comfortable as a 9 abreast A330……no “f” way.

      ON a different note…please keep the 767 pix coming. She’s still a beautiful plane and I love to fly on her. So comfortable.

    • “Comfortably accommodate passengers at 10-abreast in an A350? LOL!”

      – What’s wrong with a 10 abreast A350? Its seatwidth is only half an inch less than the 10 abreast 777 and 9 abreast 787. According to your point of view, the difference is “Less than the width of your little finger.” “Most passengers won’t even notice it.” “Miniscule difference.”


      • I never said 9-abreast in a 787 was “comfortable.” Airbus claims the A350 can comfortably accommodate economy class passengers at 10-abreast.

        How can 10 abreast seating in an A350 be comfortable, when it’s uncomfortable in wider 777?

        How can 10 abreast seating in an A350 be comfortable, when 9 abreast in a 787 is not?


        • I way I read it, Airbus says that the A350 can comfortably accommodate 8/9/10 abreast layouts. We may not like the lower end, but it is still within acceptable limits of the industry’s current comfort tolerances. There are a few 9 abreast A330s out there, and those customers continue to find it comfortable enough for them to keep flying it. Same can apply to the 10 abreast A350.

          Can the 787 accommodate 10 abreast?

    • But the XWB moniker was to differentiate it from the old A350 and was made in comparison to the 787, not sure how many times this has to be stated. So yes, it is an accurate name even if the A350 cabin was only wider by 0.000000000001cm, it is still extra wider than what it’s was meant to be compared to by definition. Fingers crossed you and the others finally get it this time.

    • I have a different look at the seat width with a difference of 0.5 inch per seat. Your comparison is correct for an endless row but on the A350 the seats are grouped in pairs of 3. The person seated in the middle has 1.5 inch more space.

      For 9-abreast on an A330 the person on center seat has 4.5 inch less space.

      “Comfortably accommodate passengers at 10-abreast in an A350?”
      I think that is said from an airline point of view…

      Maybe Delta will go 10-abreast on an A380.

    • You have it spot on. Airbus is a champion in making sensles claims to fool the gullibles. They put 186 seats in the A320 but they attack Boeing for puttting 197 seats in the 737. They fail to produce a clean sheet replacement of the A330 and come up with a neo yet they call it in innovation. Boeing produces the first all composite aircraft, they follow years later due to customers pressure yet they call themselves leaders in innovation.

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