United firms up its aircraft order book

United Airlines has bolstered its aircraft order book with the addition of 50 firm Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner orders and 60 firm orders of Airbus’ A321neo narrowbodies.

“This order will allow us to continue to grow globally as we deem appropriately,” United chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said Tuesday.

The order, he said, reflects United’s growing confidence about the long-term future of global travel demand.

The 50 new Dreamliner orders come from the conversion of half the purchase options United lined up late last year as it placed 100 firm 787 orders and secured 100 purchase options. United expects to take delivery of the 50 additional Dreamliners between 2028 and 2031, adding to the 71 787s that it already has in its fleet and those 100 it already had on order. 

United plans to use the 787 to grow its long-range widebody fleet and to replace its aging fleet of smaller Boeing 767 widebodies by around 2030.

Airbus A350 widebodies on order for 2024

The carrier also has 45 Airbus A350 widebodies on order for delivery after 2024. Nocella steered clear of saying whether the airline still intends to take those planes, though he did emphasize that the Dreamliner is United’s primary widebody focus. A United press release noted that the new 787-9s will allow the carrier “to further simplify its international fleet — another benefit to customers and employees as well as an area of cost savings.” 

The airline also announced Tuesday that it has lined up 50 additional purchase options for Dreamliner aircraft at the end of the decade, replacing the 50 purchase options it has now converted to firm orders. 

United said it expects to take delivery of the 60 new Airbus A321neos it has placed on firm order between 2028 and 2030. They’ll join the 70 A321neos the airline already had on order, the first of which it expects to receive next week. 

The A321neo will join United’s existing narrowbody fleet of Airbus A320-series and Boeing 737-series aircraft and assist in the airline’s plan to phase out its fleet of Boeing 757 large narrowbodies over the coming several years. 

United also has more than 370 Boeing 737 Max aircraft on order.

Growing capacity through larger aircraft

Nocella explained that in purchasing the A321neo, which is Airbus’ largest A320neo-series variant, United will continue to make the average size of its domestic aircraft larger, a step that will be necessary to grow capacity in the years to come in its Newark hub and in an increasing number of other gate- and runway-constrained airports.

The carrier also has 50 Airbus A321XLR planes on order. The airline expects to use those long-range narrowbodies to serve secondary cities on international routes. 

United also announced Tuesday that it has secured purchase rights for up to 40 more A321neos. A purchase right locks in a price, but unlike an option, doesn’t lock in a delivery window.

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