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:

“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.”

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.

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.