United’s order for 25 additional Boeing MAX is the latest love affair between the airline and the airframer concerning the beleaguered narrow body. COO Andrew Nocella described the latest order as “a key driver to our near-term growth”, with the MAX set to replace a number of older aircraft. It certainly is a boost for Boeing.
In a stock exchange filing released on March 1, United says it agreed with Boeing on a follow-on order for 25 MAX on February 26. It’s a firm order for an unspecified version (most likely the 9), scheduled for delivery in 2023. At the same time, the airline has rescheduled deliveries of forty aircraft back to 2022 and five to 2023.
This year, United expects 21 MAX 9s, some of them coming from the batch that was supposed to be delivered in 2019 but delayed after the grounding of the type in March that year. At the time, United had fourteen MAX in its fleet with sixteen scheduled for delivery that same year. These were delayed as the groundings continued, but after the FAA cleared the type for a return to service last November, another eight joined the airline before the end of 2020, bringing the fleet to 22. The remaining eight of the 2019 batch will now be redelivered in the coming months, together with thirteen newly produced aircraft. United resumed MAX services on February 11, with the first passenger revenue flight from Denver to Houston.
United’s orders for the MAX now totals 188, with 127 set to join beyond 2022. But this is where the numbers no longer seem to add up in the same way, however, as United reported 171 firm orders in an October 2020 filing as the most recent number before the latest order. By comparison, Boeing’s unfilled orders list mentions 158 MAX orders on February 1. Adding 25 aircraft from the latest order to these previous numbers doesn’t add up to either 196 (171+25) or 183 (158+25).
In previous years, United’s MAX orders have also fluctuated, showing 154 in 2019, 155 in 2018, 161 in October 2017, and 165 in July that same year. This came a month after the Paris Airshow, where United was one of the launch customers for the MAX 10 and converted 100 9s into the stretched 10. Following the delays and the decision to include the 10 with an enhanced angle of attack system with synthetic radar, the MAX 10 will now join United only in 2023 – three years later than anticipated on that hot day in July 2017. The first MAX order from United came on October 23, 2013, and hit the headlines as it included 100 aircraft, all MAX 9s.
In March 2020, United and Boeing agreed on financial compensation for the 2019 delays, the details of which remain confidential. The SEC filing states: “The compensation to the Company under the amended and restated settlement agreement is in the form of credit memos to be issued upon the satisfaction of certain conditions related to aircraft deliveries. The Company is accounting for this settlement as a reduction to the cost basis of future firm order Boeing 737 MAX aircraft deliveries and previously-delivered Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which will reduce future depreciation expense associated with these aircraft.”