Delta has worked out the deals it needs to slash about 200 50-seat Bombardier CRJ100s and 200s from its operational fleet by the end of 2015--if not earlier--but still has left one question hanging: What will it do with all of those CRJs, most of which will be returned to Delta by its regional airline partners? A report of Delta negotiations to acquire some Boeing or Airbus narrowbody aircraft provide a clue.
Under a deal reached last year to acquire 40 76-seat Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft, the manufacturer agreed to take 60 CRJ200 jets off of Delta's hands. Those are coming from the 140 that will be returned to Delta by Pinnacle (as is, without any of the maintenance required to make them easier to sell or lease). But that does not account for the other 80 coming from Pinnacle, or the 41 Delta-financed aircraft that SkyWest will be returning by the end of 2015, or the 44 CRJs from Delta's defunct subsidiary, Comair, that Delta currently has in storage after shutting down the regional in late September.
But that Bombardier deal may provide the answer--or at least a significant part of it. For one thing, its Bombardier deal includes an option to acquire an additonal 30 CRJ900s; Delta could attempt to use that as leverage to take back another 45 or 46 of the 50-seaters. Then there is this report last week from Bloomberg, in which it says Delta is considering an order for 24-30 Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 aircraft. I have my doubts as to whether Delta is going to order new aircraft, as the report indicates: in the airline's Jan. 22 earnings call, executives seemed more interested in the used aircraft market, referring to declining residual values on 8-10 year old narrowbody aircraft that has lowered the asking price. But the Bloomberg story also includes an interesting tidbit about the 50-seat CRJs: Delta is seeking an accord, the story says, in which it would order planes while having Boeing or Airbus take some of its 50-seat regional jets. I am not sure why Boeing or Airbus would do with them--50-seat jets are not exactly in high demand--but perhaps this is Delta's template for getting rid of its 50-seaters going forward.