United To Order 100+ Wide Body Jets: 787 Or A350?

United To Order 100+ Wide Body Jets: 787 Or A350?

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United Airlines is expected to place a huge wide body aircraft order before the end of the year…

United planning to refresh long haul fleet

Bloomberg reports that United is nearing a wide body aircraft order, with an announcement possibly expected by December, though that remains subject to change. United is allegedly looking at ordering 100+ jets, and people familiar with the discussions claim the airline is trying to decide between the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.

For context, United Airlines currently has an all-Boeing wide body fleet. The airline flies 767-300ERs, 767-400ERs, 777-200ERs, 777-300ERs, 787-8s, 787-9s, and 787-10s. The 767s are an average of 24 years old, the 777s are an average of 18 years old, and the 787s are an average of five years old, so those 767s and 777s will eventually have to be replaced.

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

United is more or less at the end of its wide body order book, as the airline only has a handful of 787-10s still on order, and that’s it. Given how global of an airline United is, the company sure could use a fleet renewal plan.

Now, United does technically have 45 Airbus A350s on order, but that’s an order that has been deferred for years, and currently deliveries are expected to start in 2027. United obviously doesn’t intend to follow through on that order, and United executives have even been on record as saying that they’re considering canceling the order, as it’s not cost prohibitive to do so.

United technically has A350-900s on order

Furthermore, while not a wide body jet, United does have 50 Airbus A321XLRs on order, which is the long haul narrow body jet that United will use for transatlantic flights, largely replacing Boeing 757-200s.

United has 50 A321XLRs on order

United also has Boom Overture’s supersonic jet on order, but personally I don’t take that too seriously.

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 allegedly narrowed down its choices to either the Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 — it sounds like Boeing’s new 777X, which has been delayed through 2025 (at the earliest) isn’t being considered anymore. That’s not too surprising, both because of the plane’s uncertainty, and because airlines are largely looking for lower capacity long haul jets.

United allegedly isn’t considering the 777X

So, does the 787 or A350 make more sense for United? The way I view it:

  • 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 could see United going either way here, though I would assume that the Boeing 787 is probably the favored option.

United already has a large Boeing 787 fleet

Bottom line

United Airlines is expected to order 100+ wide body jets in the near future, with the airline allegedly deciding between the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787. The 787 seems like the logical option, given that United already has so many of these jets, though I could also see United going with Airbus, especially given the existing order that the airline has been lukewarm about.

What do you think — will United order the 787 or A350?

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  1. Emily_K New Member

    I think United has a winning widebody strategy currently, which is why this order has been pushed back so long. Their 767s, with few exceptions, are flown on shorter route segments with many of them holding a premium-heavy configuration to boost revenue. On longer and high-capacity routes, the 787s and 777s are out in full force. This is a strategy that has made them a major player in the US international market. Personally I think...

    I think United has a winning widebody strategy currently, which is why this order has been pushed back so long. Their 767s, with few exceptions, are flown on shorter route segments with many of them holding a premium-heavy configuration to boost revenue. On longer and high-capacity routes, the 787s and 777s are out in full force. This is a strategy that has made them a major player in the US international market. Personally I think their order will include roughly 70% 787s and 30% A350s, with possibly some A350-900ULRs. United has been having weight restriction issues on many of their routes over 14 hours and I could see them ordering A350s to operate routes to Johannesburg, Delhi, and Singapore, among others.

  2. Motorhussy Guest

    Having flown both the A350-900 and the 787-9 in premium economy with both CX and NZ, I can say they’re exceptionally comfortable aircraft, noticeably more so than older 777 and A330 era.

    That being said, all eggs in one basket the size of United’s could be a distinct disadvantage and the A359 options provide greater capability over a potential 787-10ER plus opens a future door for the A351 as a 77W replacement.

    A...

    Having flown both the A350-900 and the 787-9 in premium economy with both CX and NZ, I can say they’re exceptionally comfortable aircraft, noticeably more so than older 777 and A330 era.

    That being said, all eggs in one basket the size of United’s could be a distinct disadvantage and the A359 options provide greater capability over a potential 787-10ER plus opens a future door for the A351 as a 77W replacement.

    A good deal from Airbus would be the bigger win for United.

  3. RF Diamond

    I hope UA does go through with ordering the A350.

  4. Aviator Guest

    This article is so badly written and cries out for an editor to step in. There are some nonsensical sentences in the piece. Bizarre.

  5. Scudder Diamond

    I'd think they'd want fleet diversity, in the case of any type or sub-type being wholly grounded for any time at all.

  6. Euro Aviation Guest

    I'll wait until the order is announced.

  7. Smokerr Guest

    United does not want the A350s it has on order and would buy more? That is an odd logic. Equally the 777-300ER is a direct A350 competitor so they need two aircraft in the same slot?

  8. John Chevedden Guest

    When will there be a next generation 787?

  9. Eskimo Guest

    Wait, I thought UA is going all supersonic fed by 19 seat electric regional and 4 seat air taxis.

    Since Brandon just single handedly "Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors" and crush the global market by starting another war (again).
    Not hard to estimate what next industry he is going after, aerospace and defense.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      You mean from UA or USA?

  10. Tim Guest

    United will probably get a combo of both. United is US company so has to go with US company Boeing, and it will probably get a good deal. But United is global company and needs to diversity as others have mentioned.

  11. Donna Diamond

    No matter which plane they order, it will likely take many years to see these deliveries. Why has it taken so long for UA to even plan, much less order these? In the meantime, the cost inefficiencies continue, the prime one being fuel.

  12. Creditian Guest

    They should go A350 to reduce the operation risks if any type of aircraft gets grounded.

  13. 305 Guest

    Another consideration in the "pro" A350 list has to be diversification in case of recall/maintenance issues. Sure, going all-in on the 787 has efficiency advantages, but it also comes with the risks of putting all your eggs in one basket (as Norwegian found out).

  14. LEo Diamond

    Quick history, United was originally a Boeing subsidiary, likely they will continue to go for Boeing

    1. RF Diamond

      United in it's past retired it's fleet of 737s.

  15. shoeguy Guest

    United will go with Boeing and order more 787s, including many more -10s. The A350 order was conceived by PMUA and was originally made to replace the 747s when UA emerged from Chapter 11. The 350 order will likely be cancelled and eventually it will be converted to more 321XLRs and perhaps even used to partially replace UA's 319/320 fleet, the bulk of which were ordered in 1992.

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      The A350 order cannot be a direct replacement for A321s because Roll Royce does not make engines for the A321neo while it is the exclusive engine maker for the A350. UA would sacrifice the penalties for cancelling the RR engines which Kirby said he was willing to pay.
      UA Is also not trying to replace its fleet of 777-300ERs because they are only about 5 years old - which is why the 777X is...

      The A350 order cannot be a direct replacement for A321s because Roll Royce does not make engines for the A321neo while it is the exclusive engine maker for the A350. UA would sacrifice the penalties for cancelling the RR engines which Kirby said he was willing to pay.
      UA Is also not trying to replace its fleet of 777-300ERs because they are only about 5 years old - which is why the 777X is not likely on the table. Also, there is no direct replacement for the B767 but may do as AA is doing which is trading a marginal improvement in fuel efficiency for a more expensive plane to acquire with minimal improvements in operating costs because the 787 is so much heavier and more capable than is needed for transatlantic flights which the 767 operates.
      While UA will dramatically improve its fuel efficiency, it already has an order book more than 2X the size of AA and DL's which will result in UA having the highest aircraft ownership costs per seat mile among US airlines.

    2. Gravelly Point Guy Guest

      This is a net growth order Dunn, the only sub fleet that will be replaced is the 767-300. The 767-400 is being reconfigured with Polaris suites as we speak. The 777-200ER and obviously the 300, both stay. Those replacements are at least 10 years down the road and will be done with the 777- x. When it’s all said and done, Boom! It will mean a net GROWTH of at least 60 aircraft to the fleet. JFK, south Florida and LAX beware! Boom! Boom!

    3. Tim Dunn Guest

      Delta and United unlike American sees tremendous growth opportunities in international. Delta’s current order book even without the rumored A35K order is also growing. There is room for both but it requires the right tools - aircraft- and UA will be paying a lot to play catch-up just as is true with its narrow body fleet

    4. Gravelly Point Guy Guest

      Wait, what do you mean, AA doesn’t want to grow internationally, that makes no sense?

    5. Tim Dunn Diamond

      read Vasu's comments that have repeatedly said that AA will be funneling more and more traffic to its JV partners instead of operating its own aircraft into regions of the world where it has traditionally done poorly compared to DL and UA - read much of continental Europe and Asia. DL and UA are battling it out as the US' two primary longhaul international carriers outside of Latin America and DL will be taking aim...

      read Vasu's comments that have repeatedly said that AA will be funneling more and more traffic to its JV partners instead of operating its own aircraft into regions of the world where it has traditionally done poorly compared to DL and UA - read much of continental Europe and Asia. DL and UA are battling it out as the US' two primary longhaul international carriers outside of Latin America and DL will be taking aim at Latin America with its Latam JV. Stay tuned for growth there.

    6. LEo Diamond

      They could convert those engine orders to 787 with RR engines though, not unlikely

  16. Tim Dunn Diamond

    I noted this more than 2 months ago - and it provides evidence that United recognizes that its international fleet is not cost-effective or competitive.

    1. ladyolives Guest

      According to you, no airline in the world can match Delta, and yet, the majority seem to fly on without too much issue. Delta relies heavily on partners for international flying, has a hodgepodge of premium cabins across its fleet, and seeks to be a different animal in a crowded field, that's true, but at the end of the day, it screws its customers and its loyalists the same way every other airline does. Nothing unique about Delta.

    2. AA70 Diamond

      This is where I politely highlight an inaccuracy in your statement. They are unique in the sense that they charge more while screwing its customers and loyalists

    3. Tim Dunn Diamond

      United already codeshares on a larger transatlantic JV than Delta due ot the multiple hubs in the UA-LH Group JV.
      Since UA employees get profit sharing like DL employees, UA employees pay for the losses UA generates to justify a larger JV through higher losses on UA's two largest global regions.

      As for the A vs B discussion, UA can make either choice but I think they will choose the B787. The point is...

      United already codeshares on a larger transatlantic JV than Delta due ot the multiple hubs in the UA-LH Group JV.
      Since UA employees get profit sharing like DL employees, UA employees pay for the losses UA generates to justify a larger JV through higher losses on UA's two largest global regions.

      As for the A vs B discussion, UA can make either choice but I think they will choose the B787. The point is that they know they have the least fuel efficient international fleet - which I have repeatedly noted - and that they are willing to pay billions of dollars to get to the levels of fuel efficiency that Delta already has and has planned to get just through DL's own order book - which is half the size of UA's. and that is all before a potential A350-1000 order from Delta which I have also noted.

    4. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      "Delta relies heavily on partners for international flying"

      Compared to who? AA relies on partners for a greater percentage of seats sold over both the Atlantic and Pacific than DL does.

    5. jedipenguin Guest

      I miss Northwest.

    6. LEo Diamond

      Look at CZ, they definitely have the most efficient long haul fleet ever....

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Sam Rao Guest

Moronic comments are not helpful

2
Donna Diamond

No matter which plane they order, it will likely take many years to see these deliveries. Why has it taken so long for UA to even plan, much less order these? In the meantime, the cost inefficiencies continue, the prime one being fuel.

1
Creditian Guest

They should go A350 to reduce the operation risks if any type of aircraft gets grounded.

1
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