Delta Air Lines Inc. is showing no hard feelings after its recent trade spat with Boeing Co.

The airline’s boss, Ed Bastian, said he wants to be one of the first customers for the planemaker’s anticipated mid-market jetliner. The chief executive officer expressed his enthusiasm for the aircraft, dubbed the 797 by analysts, in a recent message posted on Delta’s internal website.

“You’re going to see us participate in Boeing’s middle-of-the-market campaign,” Bastian said. “I hope that we’re going to be a launch customer on that program as well.”

Delta’s interest would give encouragement to Boeing as the planemaker tests support for what would be its first all-new jetliner since the 787. The airline finds the proposed plane “an interesting concept” and a potential long-term replacement for some 757s and 767s in its fleet, said spokesman Morgan Durrant. “Delta is actively engaged with Boeing on this and we will continue a healthy dialogue with them as the program matures.”

Delta has an aging fleet of Boeing 757s and 767s for long domestic routes and short and midrange international ones, many of which are more than 20 years old.

Boeing didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Testing Support

The cost of developing the mid-market plane probably would run from $10 billion to $15 billion, aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia said recently.

Boeing is considering two models for the new aircraft: a 225-seat version with a range of 5,000 nautical miles, and a 275-seat version with a 4,500-mile range, Dinesh Keskar, Boeing’s senior vice president of Asia-Pacific and India sales, said recently.

Bastian’s employee message should relieve concerns that Delta’s dispute with Boeing in an international trade case will push the carrier into Airbus’s camp for the long term.

Boeing last year persuaded the U.S. Commerce Department to slap 300 percent duties on a new jet from Bombardier Inc., called the C Series. The Canadian planemaker sold 75 of the new planes to Delta at well below cost, Boeing alleged. The U.S. International Trade Commission later determined that sale of the C Series isn’t harming the American industry and blocked the duties from being imposed.

Airbus Preference

While Bastian has said the trade case wouldn’t affect Delta’s fleet orders, its decision in December to order 100 Airbus A321neo jets over Boeing’s competing 737 Max 10 fueled industry speculation about whether Delta might shun Boeing for some period. The new Airbus jets will replace at least some of Delta’s older 757s, as well as McDonnell Douglas MD-90 and older A320 aircraft.

Boeing’s new 797 would give Delta better range than the A321neo and additional capacity to haul cargo, which is more important for international flights than for domestic ones, said George Hamlin of Hamlin Transportation Consulting in Fairfax, Virginia.

“Delta needs both Boeing and Airbus,” Hamlin said. “If it becomes beholden to one, that doesn’t give it much leverage in negotiations.”

–With assistance from Julie Johnsson and Richard Clough


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Photo Credit: Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said his carrier might want to be the launch customer for the Boeing 797. Pictured is a Boeing 777-200ER. Bloomberg