United Airlines Defers Airbus A350 Deliveries

United Airlines will not be taking delivery of its A350-900s until 2027. This revised timescale was announced as part of its announcement regarding its massive order of the A321XLR yesterday. Originally ordered in 2010, the A350s delivery timescales have been pushed back once already, but were due to start in 2022.

Unites airlines a350
United Airlines will not take any A350 until 2027. Photo: Airbus

With all the noise being made about United’s large order for the A321XLR, perhaps the airline was hoping its deferral of some Airbus widebodies largely slipped away unnoticed. However, we noticed.

United Airlines is deferring its outstanding order, which comprises of 45 A350-900 widebody aircraft, for no less than a staggering seven years! The announcement was made alongside the confirmation of its order for 50 A321XLRs, placed in the closing hours of yesterday.

The announcement was little more than a single line at the end of United’s press release, which read,

“Additionally, the airline will defer the delivery of its order of Airbus A350s until 2027 to better align with the carrier’s operational needs.”

Not the first time

United’s order for the A350-900 was originally made almost a decade ago, in March 2010. It upgauged its order three years later from the -900 to the larger -1000 variant and added 10 more planes taking its total order with Airbus to 35 of the type.

The airline’s first wobble came in 2017, when it decided that actually it didn’t need the bigger panes and would instead go back to the original idea of ordering the A350-900. SO confident was it that this was the right decision, it even added 10 more aircraft to the order, bringing the total now to 45.

United Airlines Defers Airbus A350 Deliveries
For a while, United wanted the larger A350-1000. Photo: Airbus

As well as wobbling about the variant it wanted, United has been dithering about exactly when it wants it too. Originally the aircraft should have starred delivering in 2016, according to Aerotime. In fact, by 2019, every one of the original order should have been delivered. But United didn’t want them then, so had slated deliveries to start in 2022 and finish in 2027.

At the time, United said that the 2022 delivery date was more in line with the retirement plans for its 777-200s, as the oldest one would hit 25 years of age in 2023. Now, it seems that timescale is being pushed back yet again. Once again, United Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella is reported in Business Insider to have said this brings it more in line with the retirement of the 777s.

Whichever way you look at it, a 17 year gap between ordering and taking delivery of an aircraft is a very long time. A lot can change in that time too; could enough have changed that the A350 becomes obsolete for United by 2027?

Deferral with a view to cancellation?

While United remains resolute that the deferral is just that, it doesn’t stop industry tongues from wagging in the background. Clearly, this is a very long deferral in fleet renewal terms, and signals that the A350 is perhaps not right for United at all.

United’s 787s seem to be filling most of the gaps. Photo: United

At the point at which the aircraft was ordered, United was eyeing expansion into China and other parts of Asia, as well as boosting ultra long haul flights to Oceania. It was looking to the A350 to replace some of its older 777s on long haul routes too. However, the airline has been busy cutting capacity to Hong Kong and most of its recent route announcements were to destinations in Europe.

For routes further afield, all its Asian services are now catered to by Dreamliners, and even that ultra long haul route to Auckland will be using a 787-10. The 777-200s are disappearing from the long haul schedules, in favor of more 787 Dreamliners. The A350 was originally seen as the successor to the 777, but with the 787 seemingly filling the gap rather nicely, you have to wonder if United will ever need the A350 at all.

What do you think? Will United take the A350s in 2027 as per this announcement, or will they eventually slip off the Airbus order books, leaving United with an all Boeing 787 widebody fleet?