United Airlines Confirms Huge Airbus A321XLR Order

***UPDATED 04/12/2019 @ 00:05 UTC following confirmation from United***

United Airlines has placed a huge order for the Airbus A321neo aircraft. The US carrier has ordered 50 Airbus A321XLRs, with deliveries starting from 2024. The deal, at list prices, would be worth $7.1bn, and will come as a huge kick in the teeth for Boeing as it struggles with the grounding of its 737 MAX aircraft.

United A321XLR
United is on the verge of ordering 50 A321XLR. Photo: Airbus

Andrew Nocella, United’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer commented on the deal in a press release, saying:

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“The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network. In addition to strengthening our ability to fly more efficiently, the A321XLR’s range capabilities open potential new destinations to further develop our route network and provide customers with more options to travel the globe.”

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The content below is our original article published before the order was confirmed.

United predicted to order 50 A321XLR

Bloomberg reports that people ‘familiar with the matter’ have revealed plans for an order of 50 A321XLR aircraft to be firmed up by United in the very near future. This would be United’s first foray into the world of the neo range, and a firm steer away from its currently very Boeing heavy fleet.

United A320
United has a number of elderly A320 family aircraft, but no neos. Photo: Redlegsfan21 via Wikimedia 

Before any discounts are made, the deal would be worth $7.1bn. Bloomberg is reporting that the deal could be announced any day; if it is, it would be bad news for Boeing.

United is one of the biggest customers of the beleaguered 737 MAX aircraft, with 100 of the MAX 10 on order. While both aircraft move a similar number of passengers, the A321XLR’s impressive range opens up north Atlantic routes for the carrier in a way that the MAX cannot.

Filling the middle of the market

For United, it is likely seen as an almost perfect replacement for its aging fleet of Boeing 757s. In an ideal world, Boeing would have produced a replacement aircraft for this discontinued model some time ago, but for one reason or another the manufacturers ‘new midsize aircraft’, dubbed the ‘797’, is still many years from reaching the market.

Although the XLR is a decent replacement for the 757, offering a similar passenger capacity and range but with 30% less fuel burn, there has been another issue which has likely been holding United back. During the Paris Air Show this year, Flight Global reported how Gerry Laderman, the United’s chief financial officer, told reporters that the “XLR doesn’t solve the 767 replacement issue”.

United 757 take-off
United is looking to retire its aging 757s. Photo:
Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr

Ideally United would have one new aircraft capable of replacing both the 757 and 767, but with no solution forthcoming from Boeing, Airbus stepped up to the plate. The European planemaker has pitched the A321XLR for the bottom end of the mid-range market, i.e. the replacement to the 757, while they are touting the baby of the A330 family, the A330-800neo, as the potential replacement for the 767.

Although this sort of strategy works well for airlines that already operate the A320neo and A330 family aircraft, it’s not ideal for United, which operates neither. At the time, Laderman was weighing up his options between the cost of adding a new type to the fleet, but then having something of just the right size, or of trying to manage with a fleet of MAX and 787s, neither of which ideally fill the middle of the market segment.

Now, it seems, he might have made up his mind. An order for the A321XLR would therefore not only be a massive win for Airbus in the US, it would also be another nail in the coffin for Boeing’s ‘NMA’ 797.

If United does go ahead with this order, it would be joining the growing ranks of US airlines taking a punt on Airbus’ new long-range single-aisle jet. American Airlines placed an order for 50 of the type at the Paris Air Show this year, and low-cost JetBlue converted 13 of its existing A321neo orders into the XLR variants at the same time.

Airbus
Rival American Airlines has 50 A321XLR on order. Photo: Airbus

American Airlines’ order is notable in the fact that the A321XLR is being purchased to replace the Boeing 757s it is looking to retire. However, rather than looking to Airbus’ A330-800 solution for the 767, AA is heading back to Boeing with more orders for the 787-8 instead.

It seems that carriers are becoming tired of waiting for Boeing to present them with the ideal 757/767 replacement. If the US planemaker isn’t seen to be making progress soon, more potential orders will inevitably be lost.

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JFP

Not surprised. The anti-business U.S. government and President unnecessarily grounding the MAX has mortally wounded Boeing.

If, by some miracle, Boeing survives, they would be wise to never again bid on any U.S. government contract. They should tell the government to go to Airbus.

Gerry S

To be blunt. Dumbest comment I’ve seen yet on this site. Are you for real?

Ueli Praett

@JFP : Look at the bright side of life! Boeing has got more than 1 billion Ebit this year. They will survive definitely. But Boeing have left the airlines alone when stopping production of the 757. After 20-30 years which type shall be the successor? B7373Max? Definitely not at this moment. The airlines were begging for a competitive aircraft from Boeing. Result : Maybe somewhere in the future. Northrop/Airbus has already won the competition for the new military project, but after many doubtful actions behind the scenes (where we both do not want to know anything about it) the order… Read more »

K.P.

Airbus Military project (oxymoron), can you say A400M !!! How many billions of euros did the government pay for those to keep that program running and now Germany and Spain still doesn’t want them. KC-46A all the way

Peter Hodgkinson

I don’t believe the KC-46A is a competitor for the A400M, Rather it is a competitor for the Airbus MTT, which is a vastly superior tanker plane and, but for the interference of Boeing, backed by the US authorities, should have retained the USAF tanker contract! You should get your facts straight.

Gerry S

So true.

Frank

It’s a done deal – according to various reports. Looks like Boeing is going to lose out on the narrow body end of the 757/767 replacement market. I think Boeing made the wrong decision to make the 737 Max and should have instead made a 757 Max.

Gerry S

Not so. The MAX was a good idea but rushed. Had they taken their time and figured everything out they would not have have had a/c losses. The B737 is the right size/capacity for many airlines. If only Boeing hadn’t let Airbus’s NEO scare them into an accelerated production. Snooze, you lose certainly. But rush a product like an aurcrt and nothing good comes of it.

Gerry S

……rush a product like an aircraft…. I want to say

Frank

Gerry – I agree with the rushing sentiment, however – the 737 is an outdated and imperfect solution for the problem that Boeing faced. You can see this in the way they reacted to the C-Series. Had they set their hubris aside and partnered with Bombardier when they were approached, they would have had a cutting edge aircraft at the lower end of mainline aircraft and could have focused on the MoM segment. (Before Boeing tried to get the C-Series killed in the crib by using the Trump gov’t to slap on tariffs, Bombardier tried to partner and were rebuffed).… Read more »

Gerry S

Frank, I didn’t know that. If true, then Boeing certainly snoozed. Talk about missed opportunity. .

TheDude

lol this made me laugh. 737 outdated…A320 is not? Cool story.

Bryce

The A320 is 20 years younger than the 737.
And the A320 has fly-by-wire, instead of dinosaur-era cables-and-pulleys.
Everything is relative 😉

TheDude

I am speaking of NG and on. NG was 96 I believe. Believe it or some people prefer flying with cables and pulleys although I think the Max is FBW.

TheDude

Heck the logic on Airbuses for dual inputs alone is argument for cables and pulleys.

K.P.

Hackers getting into everything now, hope you are on the first Airbus that gets hacked Bryce and then see if you wish you were on a dinosaur then.

bluefrog

@K P thats is a bad comment you made ,how the hell can you hope someone dies on a flight !!

K.P.

So many FACTS wrong with that, FIRST, Boeing’s case was tossed out due to the C-series wasn’t considered competition for the 737 so they stated Boeing didn’t have a dog in the fight, nobody from Bombardier or Delta EVER DENIED being sold for less than production costs and Trump wasn’t even involved. Second, Boeing and Embraer looked to hook up and EUROPE who had no problem with C series and AIRBUS getting together , are ALARMED about competition with a Boeing / Embraer deal… why is that? Just more of European do what we say not what we do Bull.

Bryce

@Frank
I agree: the MAX was an ill-conceived, over-compromised, under-engineered mistake.

Anonymous

Boeing put the 797 on hold when the Max was grounded. Maybe they should have done most of the R

Anil Talpade

Boeing will still survive if they seriously think about the so-called NMA (aka 797), keeping the 737Max issues aside.

Bryce

By the time Boeing gets its finger out and actually gets this hot-air NMA on the market, we’ll all be flying on spaceships…

Gerry S

Dude, why are you so anti-Boeing? Did they harm you terribly as a child? I mean your bias is overwhelming. I am an Airbus fan but jeez Louis every discussion you vent.

Bryce

First of all: who’s Louis?

Second: my comment reflects a broad (though not generic) opinion that the NMA is a ghost that’s never going to materialise…regardless of who the purported manufacturer of that NMA is going to be. For example, this US aviation website was quick to point out that the United A321XLR order further put NMA plans on shaky ground.
https://leehamnews.com/2019/12/03/united-orders-50-a321xlrs/#more-31869

Third: If I want to express my (informed) opinion here, I don’t think I need prior approval from you 😉

Bryce

This order may have something to do with the fact that Boeing itself may be losing faith in the MAX: apparently, Boeing is now approaching lessors with more distant delivery slots and asking them if they’d be interested in switching to a new, clean-sheet, single-aisle aircraft:

https://leehamnews.com/2019/11/28/converting-customers-to-the-fsa/

Frank

Geez – if only Boeing had a ready made, cutting edge replacement in that segment, huh?

It’s too bad they rebuffed Bombardier when they were approached by them (before the Airbus deal) to partner on the C-Series. Boeing could have then focused on the MoM and avoided the Max fiasco. That would have given them 2 cutting edge aircraft in the market all the way up to the 787.

The decisions we make…

Bryce

Well, I think we all know at this stage that decisions at Boeing for the past few years have been (short-term) profit-oriented rather than (long-term) engineering-oriented.
They’re just reaping what they sowed…

Bryce

If this is purely intended as a 757 replacement, then it’s hardly surprising, as Boeing has no offering in that regard. But it might also be a step toward (partially) putting the MAX in the bin. Probably playing a role here: India’s announcement this week that it will require a rather stringent training scheme for MAX pilots, when/if the plane is un-grounded; one can imagine similar demands in other countries. And there’s also the public row with Transport Canada over removal of MCAS altogether. And the fact that there’s STILL no credible un-grounding date by the FAA/EASA. United will probably… Read more »

Bryce

I’m concurrently reading on FlightGlobal that United has deferred delivery of its 45 A350s to 2027:

https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/united-defers-a350-deliveries-to-2027-462669/

Perhaps this has something to do with an impending choice of a different plane to be a 767 replacement…such as the A330-8 or a 787-8.

High Mile Club

Very likely to be more 787s, which United has all variations. If so, good. Don’t know why they hadn’t done so sooner.

Bryce

That would seem like a logical choice, since they’re already a 787 operator.
On the other hand, if they saw the 787-8 as a worthy 767 replacement, they’d have already ordered more of them. So maybe they’re interested in the A330-800, and want more data and more certainty regarding its engines.
It could also be purely economic: they may be planning on squeezing a few more years out of their 777s, for which the A350s were originally intended as replacements, because there’s a downturn coming in the aviation industry.

High Mile Club

Possibly. According to Wikipedia, they have 54 767s (38 300ER and 16 400ER) and a total of 46 787s of all variants combined ( with 13 87-9s and 5 87-10s coming). Already, the 787 has replaced the 67 on some international routes. Then again, the 767 only came into their fleet because Continental had them before the merge. Those 767s may be old, but not too old to get a couple more years out of them. However, I’ve seen flights have to be delayed repeatedly because of maintenance issues with these old birds. It’s possible they might also just want… Read more »

High Mile Club

They shouldn’t have halted the 797 design to rush the MAX. Now they are paying the price.

Jeff

wonder will Delta follows to order the A321XLR? They have huge order on A321ceo/neo and it would make sense for them to order the XLR to replace their 752. Perhaps their 753, some 763 and 764 can be replaced either the NMA or A338/9. I know they want to wait and see what Boeing could offer but it could take perhaps the next 10 – 15 years for the launch of NMA. United can simply order additional 787 to replace 763/764 rather than waiting the NMA.

K.P.

Lets see if United whines like Delta when those tariffs increase on Airbus aircraft – WTO found AIrbus still getting illegal aide no matter how much they fight it — I would say about a 25% to 50% tafiff on those aircraft will get that order cancelled so fast

Sanityone

We can only say that shady intentions grounded the 737Max. Frankly, you fly on it first. I sure don’t want to be a test passenger. Boeing is desperate and desperate people do desparate things. Nuff said!

venom6

Good choice! The MAX won’t fly in the near future. All airlines should cancel their MAX orders! Hopefully Boeing will learn from it! Sometimes it’s hard to recognize that you are no longer #1 on the market.