Delta scraps its Dreamliner order that was never going to be filled

Delta Air Lines will not take delivery of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners it had on order; that order is now dead. The carrier had an open order for 18 of the type since its acquisition of Northwest Airlines in 2008. No one reasonably has expected that the planes would ever be delivered. In 2010 the order was deferred to at least 2020 and the writing was on the wall at that point, though keeping it on the books was nominally good for Boeing. But at this point scrubbing it shouldn’t really affect much.

Northwest placed the order in 2005 and was expected to be the North American launch customer of the type. Continental ordered its 787s before Northwest but had later delivery slots. Eventually United Airlines took the planes it inherited via the Continental order and became the US launch customer.

As for the Delta fleet, long-haul replacement and growth is coming in the form of A330s and A350s from Airbus. The company is also continuing to take delivery of new 737-900ERs through 2019 and has a sizable order for the Bombardier CSeries. With the Airbus order in place the 787s simply did not fit in Delta’s fleet and the small order size for the –8, the smallest of the 787s, made very little sense for the company.

Still, it is slightly surprising to me that the order is being killed off completely. Keeping it on the books this long didn’t seem to matter much to either company. It was held open largely to give Delta options for converting the order to other Boeing aircraft in the future. Apparently that’s not going to happen. Terms of the contract termination were not disclosed. Any penalty must have been negotiated to a small enough amount that it was easier to just cancel than play the charade any longer.

Plus, it is the end of the year and cleaning out the dusty corners to be ready for 2017 probably isn’t a bad idea.

Header Image: Rendering of a Northwest 787-8 from Boeing

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


      1. No particular order:
        1) 747-8 orders have completely dried up. Passenger as well as freighter. The UPS order helps but is nothing near enough to keep the program sustainable.
        2) Not enough 777-300ER orders to “bridge” up to the start of 777X production. Slow widebody market as a whole.
        3) Cost and production problems during 787 development, which lead to early discounting, which means deficits and losses in the 787 program as a whole.
        4) No true MoM solution/757 replacement/A321 fighter.

        Notice I didn’t mention the 787 batteries. That was expensive, but at least fixed and taken care of.

        1. Of these I think the MOM/757 is something of a red herring. Yes, there is a market for that type, but it is a relatively small market. Airbus will win it completely but that doesn’t mean Boeing is screwed because of it.

          There is a risk that the airlines which need the type lean more to the other A320neo family aircaft for consistency but even that is, to me, unlikely to sway the overall numbers too much given how small the overall demand is in that space over the next 20 years.

          1. Yes, I agree if you look strictly at the numbers the MoM market is relatively small, it’s not the best paxex, and it’s slow at airport ops, but it’s an important market. At the minimum, a decent MoM gives carriers who outgrow their 737s (and can’t take on widebodies) an option to stick with Boeing instead of jumping ship to Airbus by default.

    1. I remember when Charles Kennedy screamed at me, sprayed spittle in my face and jabbed his finger whilst discussing the solution to the battery fire problem being a metal box with a chimney attached to it. I believe these could have been some of the issues Charles Kennedy was referring to.

    2. It might not ever make a profit, but at least it’s out of the woods, so to speak. I’d rather have the 787 “problem” rather than the A380 “problem” to be right-up honest.

  1. On that note, has AA ever canceled the A350 order it inherited from HP/US? the, “New US,” was supposed to be the North American launch customer (maybe even world?) Airbus provided financing to make the HP/US merger happen.

    1. Deferred at least 18 months but not cancelled yet. And even if AA didn’t defer the delivery likely would have been delayed since Airbus still hasn’t caught up with its planned 2016 deliveries, though it did do way better than I expected it to. At the beginning of the year it was scheduled to put 50 A350s into service. Of those, 42 have been delivered so far.

  2. Looks like we will be seeing global international growth to flatten out or shrink from the US3 in the next few years as the orders they all currently have does not “fill” the planes they want to retire in the next 3-5 years. DL’s 763 fleet is bigger than the entire Airbus widebody order (plus the 744s) nor does AA’s order cover the ones they want to retire (767 and 333). There are the 757s that AA/UA would love to get rid of as well, but no real replacement at this point – I am still having a hard time buying the A321LR prospects and we all know the A321s like the 739s are a dog performance wise.

    763s sure can solider on for another 5-10 years if they want to keep them longer while using new orders for growth, but they are getting very expensive to maintain.

    Granted if strategy shifts they can easily put in an order and start getting planes within 12-18 months (assuming they are content with ordering 777/330), but this is certainly an interesting development. It seems the US3 wants to shift the focus more onto the domestic market.

  3. I have a model 787 1:200 in NWA livery from the launch announcement. I’m not the least bit surprised the order got cancelled, but I am surprised it took this long for DL to eliminate something that has always been inconvenient.

    1. EK is already starting or about to start retiring their oldest 77Ws. EK @ DXB is at capacity and can’t really expand more until they move over to DWC, so perfect timing for them to focus on modernizing their fleet a little.

  4. To be fair, numerous data points changed in the years since the 787 order was placed. The US airline industry consolidated, current and planned 330s became ridiculously more capable, Tokyo hub is gone, and Delta is in a stronger position relative to its JV partners (actually a slight curse on expansion insofar as AF/KLM — and especially AF — can’t keep up on North Atlantic route development).

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