UAL Splits Aircraft order

Yep. You heard it. Airline that hasn’t ordered anything new in 10 years just put up an order. 25 to Boeing, 25 to Airbus.


United Orders 1st New Planes In Decade; Boeing, Airbus Splits Order

By Frank James

United Airlines made Christmas somewhat cheerier for major airliner manufacturers Tuesday; the airline announced it’s ordering its first new airplanes in a decade.

And it’s spreading the wealth around, ordering 50 airplanes, half from U.S. maker Boeing, the balance from Airbus, Boeing’s European competitor.

NPR’s David Schaper reported the following for the network’s newscast:

Chicago-based United is taking advantage of a slow market for new jetliners and thus, low prices, as it orders 50 new planes for about $10 billion.

United is ordering 25 jetliners from it’s Chicago neighbor, Boeing, and 25 more from Europe’s Airbus, and in the process, the airline will be able to cut fuel costs and emissions.

Both widebodies, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A-350 are more fuel efficient than United’s current fleet. Airline officials say the new planes will slash fuel consumption, cost and emissions by a third over the 747’s and 767’s they will replace.

These are the first new jet orders for United since 1998. And this is one of the biggest new aircraft deals since the start of the recession. Officials at the nation’s third largest air carrier say the current economic environment provided a good opportunity.

Anyone hoping to ride one of the new jets is going to have to wait awhile. The first ones won’t come on line until 2016.

An excerpt from the airline’s press release:

United expects to take delivery of the aircraft between 2016 and 2019; at the same time it will retire its international Boeing 747s and 767s. These 50 new aircraft will reduce the average seat count by about 19 percent compared to the aircraft they will replace, and by about 10 percent when averaged over the entire international fleet. With the Airbus A350 powered by the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine, and the Boeing 787 powered by either the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 or the GE GEnx, United estimates it will reduce its fuel costs and carbon emissions from the 50 aircraft by about 33 percent. Additionally, the company expects average lifetime maintenance costs for the new aircraft to be approximately 40 percent lower per available seat mile than the aircraft that will be retired.

The new aircraft will open up new revenue opportunities for United as the smaller size, longer range, and lower operating costs of these aircraft allow the company to profitably serve a broader range of international destinations. The A350 has a range 11 percent greater than the current B747, and the B787 has a range 32 percent greater than the current B767.

Both new aircraft offer significant improvements to the customer experience, including larger windows, more overhead bin space and improved lighting, among other features.


Interesting to note that while they are widebodies, how would the various seat configurations compare to their current configs on the B747. Are they going to drop seat capacity for frequency of the flights?


Psst…25 to BA, 25 to Airbus…


My bad. corrected.


Just curious - why did UAL buy the 787 and A350? I thought those aircraft were direct competitors and thus were very similar.

The truth of the matter was that I wanted them to buy A380’s.

It doesn’t make any sense at all. They are two aircraft that are similar to each other. Neither has flown yet (although the 787 may fly in the next few days).

Some of the models in the middle overlap, but not all of them.
A350 doesn’t have a model small enough to replace the B767 on thinner routes, so they bought the 787-8. B787 doesn’t have a model big enough to replace the bigger widebodies so they bought the A350-900. It is a bit strange though, I expected them to go for the A350-1000 as a B744 replacement rather than the -900 which makes a nice 777-200 replacement.

UA has 310 economy seats in the back of their 747’s. They don’t routinely need all those economy seats. Also, the A350 and 787 open up more nonstop destinations and therefore the extra capacity won’t be needed to the “hub” in NRT or Focus City in HKG. For example, the 787 opens up the possibility to return SFO-TPE to nonstop and make the route viable, thus that’s fewer pax that need to fly SFO-NRT.

Also, the A350-900 can seat 310 in 3-class configuration according to Airbus.

UA’s Pacific 777-200’s only seat 248, so the A350-900 is a considerably larger aircraft.

I was wondering this too, because with the drop in seats comes the rise in frequency on the routes these will be used on. The B767 routes are an even push for seats. But there is the huge difference in seat configs between the A350 and B744. the only way to make up those seats (assuming full flights) would be to increase the frequency of those flights. Would that really save them the money for the fuel if they have to fly the same route more than once with more planes?

Second, how many routes does UAL have left that the B744 is flying? All the ones I know of (which fly TransPac routes) are using B777s now…


The A359 is about the same size as the B772; they’re using different premium mixes and seat sizes in those two figures.

UA uses the B744 on:
ORD-PVG (summer)

SFO-PVG (summer)

IAD-NRT (winter)


It is also used on tags within Asia/Pacific:
NRT-PEK (winter)

Since there are several spare 744’s during the winter, they are using two on ORD-HNL during the holiday season.

They’re still using it on the KLAX-YSSY route? Wow… I thought they’d have replaced that with a B772 already…

I looked up some of the specs on the A350 (wikipedia). It could be that they went with the A350-900 for the range and ceiling. They would gain an extra 100nm and 1000ft higher of a ceiling with the -900 over the -1000. That would help with the fuel consumption, and wonder if that came into account compared to the additional seats they could have in the -1000.

Anywho, something I missed from UAL’s press release:

Q5: What are the benefits of placing orders with both manufacturers?
A5: Ordering aircraft from both Airbus and Boeing provides United greater financial benefits compared to choosing a single manufacturer. Neither manufacturer offers next generation aircraft sized to optimally serve all of the current and future markets in United’s network. The mix of Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 aircraft give us the right range of aircraft sizes needed to replace both our Boeing 747 and 767 aircraft. The economic benefit of placing the right size aircraft into each market overwhelms any benefit from ordering from one manufacturer.

Furthermore, our international fleet replacement program will reduce our fleet complexity, and associated operating costs, by eliminating one fleet type as we transition from three widebody aircraft types (Boeing 747, 777, and 767) **to two **(Airbus A350 and Boeing 787).

So UAL is also dropping their B777s.


I betting they will order some more widebodies, 50 is not a lot for an airline the size of UA:
Pre-merger Delta: 94
American: 120
United: 112
US Airways: 12
Pre-merger Northwest: 48
Continental: 46