United Airlines announced today a fleet update that formally states it has bought more 737-700s.  The initial 40 plus another 25.  United will take delivery of the aircraft beginning at the end of 2017.  This is clearly faster than what Bombardier could have done, but more importantly, United no doubt paid less.

United says the 737-700s enable it to continue utilizing larger, more efficient aircraft as the airline reduces the size of its 50-seat regional fleet. United expects to have fewer than 100 aircraft in its 50-seat fleet by the end of 2019. In this regard, United is following its competitors in up-sizing away from small RJs. Unmentioned is the likelihood service will be cut back at more communities and cause some harm by disconnecting these communities to the greater economy via air service.

United also announced that it will retire its 747s from scheduled service by the end of 2018.  That might mean some could be kept on charter. The airline offered no indications on this though.  The airline reports 22 747s in its fleet.

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United also said that it will be converting 787 orders originally anticipated for delivery in 2020 and beyond into four 777-300ERs and five 787-9s beginning in 2017. These conversions and earlier deliveries will accommodate the accelerated retirement of the 747s while also meeting United’s capacity needs.  The airline reported it expects the first A350-1000 delivery in 2018.  So the 747 retirements, a switch to 777-300ERs and 787-9s plus the A350-1000s will be something of a carefully orchestrated process through 2018.  Note that United has firm orders for 35 A350-1000s, 153 737s, 10 777-300ERs, and 27 787s. The airline also has firm orders for 10 E175s that United Express partners will operate.

The additional 777-300ERs were to be expected as part of a quid pro quo for getting a screaming deal on the 737-700s.  Boeing obviously is pleased to sell more 777-300ERs as it tries to keep the line busy.  Converting some of the 787s to the -9 model is smart as that is a far more capable aircraft than the -8.  United is using a -9 to launch service from SFO to TLV in April.  The 787 enables long thin routes in a way that few other aircraft can match.

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