United Airlines is fully committed to Boeing for its long-term widebody and narrowbody fleet requirements by confirming a bumper order for 100 Dreamliners and 100 MAX. The 787 order that was announced today is the largest widebody aircraft order by a US airline and also the largest single Dreamliner order for Boeing, although the value hasn’t been specified. United fully commits to Boeing 787 with bumper order.

United CEO Scott Kirby and Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Stan Deal officially signed the order later on Tuesday during a special ceremony at Boeing’s 787 factory in North Charleston in the presence of hundreds of Boeing workers. But the airline and airframer already shared many details earlier on the day in their media releases and SEC filing.

The 787 order for 100 aircraft, which is a supplemental order to the one signed in May 2018, includes options for another 100 Dreamliners. This makes United the biggest 787 operator by a factor of two, said Ihssane Mounir, Senior Vice President of Commercial Sales and Marketing. Deliveries of the first eight aircraft are scheduled for 2024, with the rest following through 2032. United has the freedom to choose from all three 787 versions: the 787-8 (of which it has twelve), the -9 (38), or the -10 (sixteen). During the North Charleston ceremony event, Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella raved about the 787, claiming that the -10 has the best economics of all aircraft while the -9 continues to fly thanks to its range.

A jubilant Scott Kirby on the right and Stan Deal behind the table, signing the huge order. Their signatures were displayed on the 787-10 in the background. (Boeing)

The 787s will replace some 120 older widebody aircraft, including 56 767s that are on average 25 years old. The last one will be phased out in 2030. The Dreamliners also replace the oldest 777-200s, of which United has 74 with an average age of almost 24 years. By inducting newer-generation aircraft, the airline says it will be able to reduce its carbon emission by 25 percent per seat.

In the release, the carrier says that “the firm order for 787 aircraft addresses United’s current widebody aircraft replacement needs through the next decade. (…) In partnership with Boeing, this order also helps United maintain flexibility with the timing of widebody aircraft retirements.”

Airbus A350 delivery schedule has been modified

Although its future fleet plan still includes the Airbus A350-900, United’s commitment to the 787 is a strong indication that it has no longer an appetite for the 45 A350s it has had in the backlog since 2017 and of which deliveries were scheduled from 2027. In an SEC filing, United says: On December 8, 2022, United entered into an amendment to that certain Purchase Agreement, dated September 1, 2017, with Airbus agreeing to modify the delivery schedule of certain A350 aircraft to better align with United’s needs.” United Chief Financial Officer, Gerry Laderman, reportedly said during a media call that deliveries have been pushed back to 2030. Airbus says that it is up to the airline to reveal the delivery schedule, but adds that United still has 45 A350s on order.

About the 787 order, Laderman says: “This order solves for our current widebody replacement needs in a more fuel-efficient and cost-efficient way, while also giving our customers a best-in-class experience. And if the future of long-haul flying is as bright as we think it will be, United is able to capitalize on those opportunities by exercising these new widebody options – I look forward to the incremental margin and earnings these aircraft will generate.”

More MAX on order

United also placed an order for 100 more MAX, of which 56 are part of a new order and 44 conversions of options in the May 2018 order. In June 2021, it already announced a huge follow-on order for fifty MAX 8s and 150 MAX 10s. The delivery of the 44 aircraft is scheduled between 2024 and 2026, while the 56 aircraft will join in 2027 and 2028. This brings United’s MAX orders to 518, Mounir said. The latest order includes 100 options. As with the 787s, United has the flexibility to swap between models. The carrier currently operates 43 MAX 9s and 27 MAX 8s. So far, it hasn’t shown an interest in the smallest model, the MAX 7.

The new Boeing orders get United’s backlog to some 700 new aircraft until 2032, which translates into the delivery of two aircraft per week in 2023 and even three per week in 2024. “United emerged from the pandemic as the world’s leading global airline and the flag carrier of the United States. This order further solidifies our lead and creates new opportunities for our customers, employees and shareholders by accelerating our plan to connect more people to more places around the globe and deliver the best experience in the sky,” Scott Kirby said in a media statement. In its ninety-year aircraft, United has bought over 2.400 from Boeing.

Stan Deal added: “The Boeing team is honored by United’s trust in our family of airplanes to connect people and transport cargo around the world for decades to come.” 

United’s Polaris Business Class product is now available on ninety percent of its widebody fleet. (United Airlines)

Cabin upgrades continue

United said it will also continue its investments in the modernization of its cabins. In 2023, some 100 narrowbodies in its mainline fleet will get a cabin makeover. This work extends into 2025. Of the widebody fleet, ninety percent has been upgraded with the United Polaris Business Class seat and Premium Plus seats. Work on the remaining aircraft is to be completed in mid-2023.

As a result of today’s order announcement, United’s capital expenditures will reach approximately $9.0 billion in 2023 and $11 billion in 2024. It will also result in a significant expansion of United’s workforce. The carrier plans to hire some 15.000 new employees next year, the same as it has done this year. It needs 10.000 new pilots by the end of this decade, with 2.400 already recruited this year and 2.500 next year. United says it is seeing strong interest from pilots with civil and military backgrounds. The new United Aviate Academy targets to train 5.000 new pilots by 2030.

The airline also requires some 18.000 new cabin crew until 2030, of which 4.000 are expected to join in 2023. For technical support of the growing fleet, 7.000 new maintenance engineers are needed by 2026, while customer services and ground operations need another 7.000 employees on top of the 8.500 that were recruited this year. For Boeing, the orders mean 120.000 jobs across the US. 

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News. From January 2023, he will add a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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