Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines reportedly could be in talks for a big order of new airplanes.
The news agency Reuters said Delta is in talks with plane manufacturers to buy dozens of small, narrow-body jets that seat around 100 people, possibly from the Canadian company Bombardier.
Industry sources said Canada's Bombardier is pushing particularly hard for a deal for its struggling new CSeries aircraft after losing out to Boeing at United Airlines earlier this year.
A U.S.-based Delta employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said Bombardier executives were in Atlanta this week.
In a statement, a Delta spokesperson said, “Delta has been evaluating new and used aircraft acquisition opportunities in the roughly 100-seat gauge as we’ve continued to replace our 50-seat regional fleet with larger, more customer friendly mainline aircraft.”
Rumors of a possible big purchase by Delta was notable to some airline industry analysts.
"What surprises me about this is the timing," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group.
Delta and its pilots union recently filed for federal mediation after failing to agree on a new labor contract. Harteveldt said a big order like the one reported could give pilots an advantage because the airline will need them more.
“On the other hand, the order would also tell the pilots, 'Hey, we here at Delta, we're committed to growing,' and it's job security,” Harteveldt said.
Labor negotiations scuttled a plan for Delta to buy 60 jets last year when the union rejected a tentative contract. The union agreement was needed to trigger the at least $4 billion deal to buy the Boeing and Embraer jets.
Delta later purchased 20 Embraer 190 and 20 new Boeing 737-900ER through a different agreement with Boeing.
To Seth Kaplan, a managing partner at Airline Weekly, the timing makes sense.
“This could very well be Delta once again trying to bundle something that would be attractive to its pilots, you know, with something it just needs anyway, which is to eventually replace planes,” Kaplan said.
The airline’s interim CEO Ed Bastian recently said Delta needs to retire about 120 medium range MD-80 jets over the next five years.