Boeing’s loss of the orders to its archrival is a reminder that Boeing risks losing customers while its planned new midsize airplane remains on the drawing board.
United is buying 50 Airbus A321s for transatlantic routes.
United Airlines has ordered 50 jets from Airbus to replace Boeing 757 planes that are due to be retired in five years.
United is buying a new version of an existing plane, the Airbus A321, a narrow body aircraft that is designed to seat a maximum of 244 passengers. The Boeing 757-200, which went out of production in 2005, seats about 170.
Losing the orders to Airbus isn’t a surprise, but it comes at a time when the 737 Max, Boeing’s update of its mainstay product, isn’t being delivered because of investigations into two fatal crashes. It’s a reminder that Boeing risks losing customers while its planned new midsize airplane remains on the drawing board.
The Airbus A321 XLR aircraft will mostly be used on transatlantic routes, and United will fly the planes from New York and Washington. The XLR is an update to a variant of a popular Airbus plane, the A320, which began flying two decades ago. It’s expected to use 30 percent less fuel than current aircraft.
United has long operated a fleet with both Boeing and Airbus planes. It will defer orders for the Airbus A350 to 2027 to take the A321s.
Boeing didn’t have a replacement option available, said Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer.
“Our order for XLR does not mean we’ve shut the door on potentially ordering the NMA,” Nocella said. “We will take a look at it. The XLR is a bit smaller aircraft.”
Valued at $7.1 billion before customary discounts, United’s order expands the U.S. foothold of a single-aisle variant capable of handling North Atlantic routes.
United plans to start replacing its Boeing 757-200 jets with the XLR, the jet closest to the U.S. manufacturer’s aging model, which went out of production about 15 years ago. Boeing has postponed deciding whether to develop a new plane of comparable size while it attempts to end the grounding of its workhorse Max, which was banned from the skies in March after two deadly crashes.
The airline’s XLR deal is particularly noteworthy since Chicago-based United is one of the largest customers of Boeing’s 737 Max 10 planes, with 100 on order. While that Max variant is designed to haul passenger loads similar to those of the A321, it will lack the range to tackle nine-hour flights like the XLR.
American Airlines and JetBlue Airways have already ordered Airbus’s XLR. The European aerospace giant launched the model, its longest-range single-aisle aircraft, in June at the Paris Air Show. The plane can fly as far as 4,700 nautical miles, or 15% more than the A321LR model.
United operates 75 of Boeing’s 757 jets, including the larger 757-300 model. The carrier said in October that it was actively considering how to replace that part of its fleet. United has 180 of the smaller Airbus A319 and A320 models and has been scouring the used market for more A319s.
Bloomberg News contributed.