Delta Air Lines, shifting its vocal public stance on air traffic control privatization, has begun “working constructively” with Republican congressman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania “in full support of the President's agenda to invest in and modernize the system,” said CEO Ed Bastian.
Speaking to analysts during Delta’s second-quarter earnings call on July 13, Bastian said the airline’s primary concern centers on “mak[ing] certain that we have the proper governance, transparency and cost efficiency to drive the reforms needed in the next air-traffic control system that gets modernized. We are at the table,” he added.
The move signals at least a change, if not a full-scale reversal, of Delta’s position on ATC reform. In February 2016, it published a white paper arguing that any plan calling for ATC privatization “should have to prove to consumers that a privatized ATC would maintain the same track record without increasing costs.” A plan also should also keep NextGen and its related benefits “on track,” Delta said. At the time, the airline said it had not seen such a plan.
The plan before the House of Representatives, sponsored by Shuster, the House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman, and backed by the Trump Administration, calls for an independent, user-funded ATC organization. It faces stiff opposition from key stakeholders, including general aviation and union groups.
Separately, Delta confirmed that will use its first Bombardier C Series narrowbodies scheduled for delivery next year on high-value routes now served by large regional jets as well as for new markets that fit the 100-seater’s profile.
“For high-demand, 76-seat, long-range RJ markets…that will probably be the first selection” for new C Series twinjets, Delta President Glen Hauenstein said. “That will free the two-class RJs to replace 50-seat airplanes that are continuing to exit the fleet.”
Delta plans to base the first C Series in New York,” he added. "I won't tell you where it's going to go, but it will start in New York.”
Others will test new markets that might prove better suited for a slightly larger aircraft. “We’ll certainly have a few new markets next year,” he said. “But having a 100-seat long-range jet does open up some new market opportunities that we don't have today.”
Delta ended the second quarter with 847 mainline aircraft. Its domestic partners also fly 477 regional aircraft, including 152 fifty-seat Bombardier CRJ200s. The regional fleet includes 70 seventy-six-seat Embraer E175s that feature its domestic mainline two-class cabin plus a premium-economy section.
Delta holds an order for 75 C Series jets, deliveries of which it expects to start next spring. The order, the only one for the model by a U.S. operator, remains the subject of a U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) protest filed by Boeing over what the U.S. manufacturer calls anti-competitive pricing. Bombardier denies the charges.
Bastian said that the complaint has not altered Delta’s stance. "We'll let that play out,” he said. “But what I can tell you is that we do not intend to slow down any of the deliveries that we have planned for the C Series. We'll be taking our first this coming spring and we look forward to taking that aircraft.”