The wide body aircraft order is expected to be placed by the end of the year.

United planning to refresh long haul fleet

A wide body aircraft order by United could be announced by December, though that is subject to change, according to a report. People familiar with the discussions say that United is looking at ordering more than 100 jets, and that the airline is trying to make a decision between the A350 and Boeing 787-9.

United Airlines has an all- Boeing wide body fleet. The 776s are an average of 24 years old, the 757s are 18 years old, and the 776s are five years old.

United’s 767s are an average of 24 years old

At the end of its wide body order book, United only has a few of the Boeing 787-9s remaining, and that is all. The company could use a fleet renewal plan.

The 45 A350s that United has on order are actually an order that has been deferred for many years. Even though United doesn't intend to follow through on that order, executives have said that they're considering canceling it as it's not expensive.

United technically has A350-900s on order

The long haul narrow body jet that United will use for trans-Atlantic flights is the A321XLR, which is the same plane as the one that was ordered by United.

United has 50 A321XLRs on order

United has a supersonic jet on order, but I don't think that's too serious.

United has up to 50 Boom Overtures on order

My take on United’s wide body fleet refresh

The first interesting thing to note is that United has narrowed down its choices to either the A350 or Boeing 787-9, which sounds like Boeing's new 787-9 isn't being considered anymore. Both the uncertainty of the plane and the fact that airlines are mostly looking for lower capacity long haul jets are unsurprising.

United allegedly isn’t considering the 777X

Is the A350 more suited for United. I see it in a different way.

  • There are efficiency gains if United goes with the 787, since the airline already has so many of those jets, and maybe United will eventually exclusively fly the 787 on long haul flights; there would be savings in terms of crewing, maintenance, training, fleet utilization, etc.
  • With the Boeing 787-10 getting a higher MTOW (and therefore better range), it’s a much more competitive plane than before
  • If United goes with Airbus, it makes sense that the airline goes “all-in,” and orders 100+ of those planes, so that there’s sufficient diversification; at that point both fleet types would be big enough that they’d be pretty efficient
  • While there’s efficiency to having one plane type, often the “underdog” aircraft manufacturer (in this case Airbus) ends up making a better offer, which is why we often see fleet diversification; furthermore, United has some deposit with Airbus and Rolls Royce for these planes

I think the Boeing 787 is the most likely option for United, though I can see them going either way.

United already has a large Boeing 787 fleet

Bottom line

The airline is expected to order more than 100 wide body jets in the next few months. Given that United already has so many of these jets, I think it's a good idea for the airline to go with the 787, even though it's not a good idea for the airline to go with the other plane.

Will United order the A350?