Delta Air Lines has pushed out its order for 18 Boeing 787 Dreamliners until 2020 at the earliest, meaning it may never actually buy the 787.

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Delta Air Lines has pushed out its order for 18 Boeing 787 Dreamliners by a dozen years, the airline disclosed in a regulatory filing Monday.

The deferral — until 2020 at the earliest — could mean that in the end Delta may never take the 787 at all.

The order was originally placed by Northwest Airlines in 2005 and inherited by Delta when it acquired Northwest in 2008.

In the filing, Delta said that during the last quarter it negotiated with Boeing new terms for the order, deferring deliveries from the period 2008-2010 until 2020-2022.

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“A 2020 commitment is essentially meaningless,” said Richard Aboulafia, aviation consultant with the Teal Group.

By 2020 or 2022, Boeing will have rolled out its next new airplane — likely a revamped 777 or all-new replacement — and Delta will have the option to switch its Dreamliner order to that model.

But at least Delta is committed to accepting Boeing planes.

“Given their fiendishly complicated fleet, it’s good news they didn’t cancel altogether,” said Aboulafia.

The merger left Delta as the largest airline in the world, with a massive mixed fleet of different airplane models. In the category of 787-size airplanes it already flies 70 Boeing 767s and 32 Airbus A330s.

“They’ve got this incredibly complicated fleet as a result of the merger. They have no interest in growing,” said Aboulafia. “I’m sure they’ll be interested to see what else is on offer (from Boeing) by 2020.”

The original Northwest order for the Dreamliners also included options to purchase 50 more of the jets. The new filing shows Delta no longer has any options for additional 787s.

Delta also said it has agreed to sell to another airline the four new Boeing 737-800s it has on order as soon as those aircraft are delivered to them.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or

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