Delta Blazing Trail toward Dreamliner

May 23, 2007
Delta Air Lines will likely be the first of the big three U.S. legacy airlines to order Boeing's 787

Delta Air Lines will likely be the first of the big three U.S. legacy airlines to order Boeing's 787, chief executive Gerald Grinstein said Friday in Seattle.

The 74-year-old Grinstein, set to leave Delta this summer after guiding it through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, said his successor will make any order decision but he'd be surprised if the carrier doesn't buy its first Dreamliners by the end of the year.

In the last year Delta added more than 60 new international routes, which typically require long-range widebody jets.

Delta flies more than 100 midsize 767 jets. Grinstein, in town for the Microsoft CEO summit, said that those planes need to be replaced starting as early as 2011.

"Of course, you could wait for the [Airbus] A350," he said, "But why?"

The new Boeing jet is "perfect" for the needs of the U.S. carriers, with the right size and the necessary range, he said. The bigger A350 rival that Airbus is proposing could be too big for many of the routes Delta wants to fly, Grinstein said.

"Boeing has got it right," he said.

Grinstein said he is not worried about the availability of delivery slots for the 787, because Boeing can always "miraculously" find slots when it needs them for a big order. The company does that either through keeping some delivery slots available for significant customers or by arranging for other airlines to defer their orders.

Atlanta-based Delta came out of bankruptcy April 30 after a 19-month restructuring that cut 6,000 jobs and slashed debt. The carrier projects $8 billion per year in cost and revenue improvements.

Grinstein grew up in Seattle, studied law at Harvard and later worked for Washington's powerful former U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson.

He launched a business career in the mid-1980s, heading Salt Lake City-based Western Airlines. When Delta acquired Western in 1987, he joined the board.

He then led the Burlington Northern railroad company and oversaw its acquisition of Santa Fe Pacific. He retired in 1995, but was persuaded in January 2004 to take over as Delta's chief executive to steer it through its financial crisis.

Starting this summer, he'll be back living in Seattle.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or

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