United Airlines announced an order for 45 new Airbus A350-900 XWB aircraft, overriding an original order for the slightly larger Airbus A350-100 XWB’s.
Targeted replacement for the Boeing 777-200 fleet
United Airlines was the launch customer for the Boeing 777 back in 1995. At the time, it was the most efficient airliner ever built. The aircraft featured giant Pratt and Whitney engines with a diameter similar to the Boeing 737 cabin’s. The Boeing twin-jet could easily fly United’s trunk routes between Chicago and Tokyo and London. It was the perfect replacement for the aging Douglas DC-10 fleet and it augmented the flagship Boeing 747-400 as well.
Much has changed since 1995 for United. The airline has undergone a bankruptcy, it undertook a merger with Continental and its had its fair share of very public customer service struggles.
As the airline looks to the future, it is in the process of retiring the Boeing 747-400 fleet. It began accepting delivery of the larger Boeing 777-300ER to the fleet last year as a near one to one replacement for the aging Boeing 747s. United also has a large and still growing fleet of 787 Dreamliners that allow the airline to open up new markets between mid-size international cities. With amenities of the larger wide-bodies, and long legs, but efficiency of a midsize jet, the Boeing 787 now fits a critical role in their business plan of direct flights to markets traditionally served through connections. Flights between Singapore and San Francisco open up new opportunities for United. The Boeing 787-8 and -9 series aircraft make those new opportunities possible. United is also welcoming the largest 787, the -10 series to the fleet next year
Boeing 777-200s are aging and no longer state-of-the-art
The Boeing 777-200 fleet is aging. United firmed up their replacement plan through this order. United still operates some of the earliest Boeing 777s still flying. The fly the aircraft on domestic trunk routes, to Hawaii, and to Europe. While United is upgrading the jets and adding additional seats, they are still becoming long in the tooth. United will receive the A350-900 beginning in 2022 with the 45th jet to be received by 2027. Currently United operates 55 Boeing 777-200s. Assuming zero growth, the Boeing 777-200 fleet would be retired within the next 10 years, most likely as they take delivery of the new Airbus A350 fleet. That schedule would be in line with their current long-haul retirement plans which have seen the Boeing 747-400s and older Boeing 767 retired between 25 to 30 years old.
Airbus celebrates the win
In a statement by Airbus, United said, “For the past year, United has done a complete review to ensure that we have the right long-term fleet strategy, and it was clear that the A350 aligns with our replacement needs and our network,” said Andrew Levy, Chief Financial Officer of United Airlines. “The combination of the range performance and efficiencies make the A350 an attractive aircraft for United.”
“This updated and expanded order is a strong reaffirmation of the A350 XWB Family,” said John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer – Customers. “United and Airbus have had a long and strong partnership for many years, and we’ve worked together to ensure their requirements for the future are met, if not exceeded. The airline’s decision to grow its widebody fleet with, for the first time, a widebody model from Airbus, shows they know that the A350 will meet their financial and performance demands, while pleasing their customers who will enjoy the quietest and most comfortable cabin in its class.”
Airbus has recorded a total of 848 firm orders for the A350 XWB from 45 customers worldwide.