Boeing may benefit from the merger between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines as the carriers generate new cash from growth overseas...

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Boeing may benefit from the merger between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines as the carriers generate new cash from growth overseas that could help replace their aging fleets.

The tie-up, announced Monday, would create the world’s largest carrier and may lead to a bigger order for Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner in particular. Northwest ordered 18 in 2005, with options for 50 more.

“If anything, it increases the likelihood that the options will be exercised for the 787s to accommodate the expanding international network,” Northwest Chief Executive Officer Doug Steenland said Monday.

Delta Chief Financial Officer Ed Bastian added Tuesday that the combined company may exercise options for as many as 20 new wide-body jets, including 787s, 777s and 747s.

On Feb. 29 at Boeing Field, Delta took delivery of a 777-200LR, the airline’s first new airplane in six years. It took another of the big, ultra-long-range jets in March and has six more on order for delivery through the end of 2009.

Delta also has seven smaller 737-700s on order.

Each carrier exited bankruptcy protection a year ago and didn’t have money on its own to refresh its fleet, among the oldest in the world.

That could change now that they’ll combat surging fuel prices and weakening economies together, with a plan for a total $1 billion in new revenue and cost cuts.

“Post-merger, there will be long-term recapitalization of the fleet, and it certainly sets up favorably for some large orders for Boeing,” said Peter Arment, an analyst with Greenwich, Conn.-based American Technology Research. “Delta has historically been more pro-Boeing than Airbus.”

Delta flies with 451 Boeing planes in active operation and none made by Boeing rival Airbus, according to airfleets.net. The Atlanta airline’s aircraft average 14 years old, compared with 11.4 years for Northwest’s 263 planes, which are mostly Airbus jets.

Adding in Northwest’s fleet of 91 DC-9s, some of which are 40 years old and are being slowly grounded, brings Northwest’s average fleet age to 19.9 years, according to industry database Ascend Online Fleets.

That makes the fleet of the Eagan, Minn.-based airline the oldest among the nine largest U.S. carriers.

Delta, which will be the name of the merged airline, plans to “better calibrate the combined networks to the fleet that we already own,” Bastian said on a conference call Tuesday.

The company may be able to rationalize short-haul operations by using Northwest’s Airbus A320s on routes flown now with Delta’s older Boeing MD-80s, for example, Arment said.

That means the carriers may not need as many replacement planes as they would if they were to remain independent.

“But you combine those two fleets together and guess what, they’re still old,” Arment said. “They’ll cut costs where they can, but at the end of the day, there stands to be significant orders for the 787.”

Boeing stock fell $1.52, or 2 percent, to $75.70 Tuesday.

The stock malaise could be because of “concerns that, near-term, the merged airlines will reduce capacity,” said Troy Lahr, a Baltimore-based analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. “If you scale back capacity 15 percent, how many extra aircraft do you really need down the line?

“But long-term, a healthier airline is more apt to buy aircraft.”

Information from Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates is included in this report.