Delta Air Lines plans to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for new longhaul aircraft that will replace all of the airline’s Boeing 747-400s and a significant part of the 767-300ER fleets.

The RFP will go out before the end of the month and Delta could decide before the end of the year. Amongst other types, the airline is showing a strong interest in the proposed Airbus A330NEO.

“I hope they (Airbus) do offer an A330NEO,” Delta CEO Richard Anderson told Aviation Week in Atlanta. “There is a huge need for a small widebody. We really need Airbus to step up and re-engine.”

Anderson is pushing for a new 275-seat aircraft that would have a range of 5,000-5,500 naut. mi. He argues that “aircraft that underfly their range are uneconomical. You cannot make a 777 consistently profitable flying only East Coast to Europe. That would be routes 1,000 or 2,000 naut. mi. shorter than what it was designed for.”

Delta currently has 16 Boeing 747-400s in the fleet, the oldest of which have been delivered in 1989 (to what was then Northwest). The airline is looking at replacing them before the next D-checks are due towards the end of this decade.

Delta also wants to start the replacement cycle for its 58 767-300ERs, although for this type deliveries span over a longer period from 1990 to 2001. Combining the 747 replacement and a large part of the 767-300ER fleet leads to a requirement of an estimated 50 widebodies.

The carrier plans to look at four options: The Airbus A350-900 and -1000, all three models of the Boeing 787, the current versions of the A330 and a re-engined A330.

Delta is not looking at the 777X. “We don’t want experimental airplanes,” says Anderson. “We are not interested in it.”

Delta has a history of caution when it comes to new aircraft types and its fleet strategy differs compared to many other carriers in that it tends to keep aircraft longer. In spite of the traditional caution, Anderson believes Delta now has “good visibility” about the A350 and 787, enough to make a decision at this stage. “Both are pretty well down the road now,” Anderson says and points out that Delta can draw upon operational experience by its partner carriers Aeromexico and Virgin Atlantic on the 787 side.

The company has ordered ten A330-300s in the increased 242 tons MTOW version which are to be delivered from mid-2015. It also operates 21 lower MTOW A330-300s and eleven A330-200s. Anderson argues that a reengined A330 would find high demand for use on transatlantic routes, intra-Asia and even some West Coast to Asia flying.

Airbus has entered talks with General Electric, Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney about a re-engining of the A330, but has not yet made a decision. The backlog currently stands at 258 aircaft taking production into 2016 at the current rate of ten aircraft per month. The program could, however, receive a significant boost through a major order for potentially more than 100 aircraft from various Chinese airlines. It is unclear whether the Chinese order would include commitments for the re-engined aircraft.

“Boeing made a mistake in not coming up with an answer for the 767 and 757 market,” he says. While the A330 and 787 are candidates for part of the 767 missions, “there is no obvious replacement for the 757.” Delta plans to reduce the 757 fleet to around 90 aircraft by 2018.

Another gap Delta would like to fill is a good 115-120-seat aircraft, slightly larger than the Boeing 717s that is currently taking over from AirTran. “The 737-700 is not economical and the -800 is too large,” Anderson says. One option could be the Bombardier C-Series and Delta has looked at the geared turbofan (GTF) engine in particular. “Our engineers have a lot of confidence in that gearbox,” Anderson says. “But we want to see the aircraft in the marketplace” before placing an order.