United Airlines on Tuesday announced sweeping re-fleeting plans. The airline will buy 150 new Boeing 737 Max 10s, 70 Airbus A321neos & 50 737 Max 8s — all with seat-back IFE. In turn, the airline is retiring ~100 mainline jets, including 757-200s, and 200 regional jets as its orderbook grows past 500.
United Airlines has placed an order for 70 Airbus A321neo aircraft, positioning the airline to grow its presence in the single-aisle market in alignment with its ‘United Next’ initiative.
The new order complements existing orders from United for 50 A321XLR aircraft, bringing the total commitment from the airline to 120 A321 aircraft.
Significant Order from United
“Such a significant order from a great airline like United underscores that the A321neo offers unmatched capabilities, operating economics, and passenger friendliness,” said Christian Scherer, Airbus Chief Commercial Officer and Head of International.
“No other aircraft can do what the A321neo can do, and the Airbus team is most gratified by United’s strong affirmation of its premium status. The A321neo will complement United’s future A321XLR aircraft, together creating a privileged segment on its own.”
Another reason the A321neo is in such high demand globally is that the aircraft provides superior environmental performance with the lowest CO₂ emissions per seat in its class. The A321neo’s lower carbon footprint will support United along its journey to reduce the airline’s CO₂ emissions 100% by 2050.
Airspace Cabin Design
United’s A321neo aircraft will feature Airbus’ Airspace cabin design, which brings the following passenger-pleasing enhancements: unique welcome and customizable hero lighting (which helps reduce jet lag); new slimmer sidewall panels for extra personal space at shoulder level and better views through the windows with their redesigned bezels and completely integrated window shades.
The aircraft will also come with the latest full LED lighting technologies; the largest overhead bin in class; and new lavatories with hygienic touchless features and antimicrobial surfaces.
A significant number of the newly-ordered aircraft will be produced at the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, Alabama. Globally, as of the end of May 2021, the A320neo Family had achieved 7,400 firm orders from 121 customers.
“We’re not back to 100 percent,” United Chief Executive Scott Kirby said on a conference call with reporters in which he outlined how the company leaders had strategized on its needs early in the pandemic.
“Because we accurately mapped out the trajectory of the crisis in March and April of last year, it’s really allowed us to be prepared and make the right short- and long-term decisions,” he said.
Company officials were not asked about the Delta virus variant — which is spreading rapidly in many parts of the world — during the hour-long conference call, but the announcement illustrates broad confidence in the industry’s prospects even as the pandemic evolves.
The biggest component of the order will be 150 of Boeing’s new 737 MAX 10, which is still undergoing tests in a process closely monitored by US regulators. The announcement is a victory for Boeing’s jet, which was grounded for 20 months following two deadly crashes.
The other two components are 50 Boeing 737 MAX 8 and the 70 Airbus A321neo mentioned above.
All three models are narrow-body jets, making them well-suited for domestic and shorter-distance trips that have been among the first to see passenger numbers recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both the Airbus model and the next-generation 737 MAX are bigger than earlier versions of the same aircraft, a feature especially beneficial for increasing capacity in New York, San Francisco and other markets where adding more flights is difficult or impossible, United officials said.
Acceleration in Bookings
United officials made clear during the conference call that they have seen very recent signs of an acceleration in business travel bookings, with firms eager to resume client visits as they see their competitors returning to the skies.
Executives also said they were bullish about international travel, speaking of the summer of 2022 as being a “record breaker” as US consumers make up for lost opportunities during the pandemic to visit Europe and Asia.
The new planes will include enhanced in-flight entertainment options aiming to delight consumers with access to games and thousands of shows and movies. In another step to please consumers, the company plans to upgrade its existing fleet of narrow-body planes to add more compartment space for luggage.
Richard Aboulafia, an aviation expert at Teal Group, said purchases of the A321 and the 737 MAX — both single-aisle planes — make sense for the airline in the current market.
“The domestic markets are coming back pretty fast and fuel prices are coming back fast too,” Aboulafia said.