United Could Still Order Boeing’s NMA Despite Huge Airbus Order

United Airlines made major news with an order for 50 new Airbus A321XLR aircraft. After this order, it appeared that the airline had made its choice when it came to replacing aging Boeing 757s and is not in need of any more midsize, long-range aircraft. However, United now says that Boeing’s new midsize airplane (NMA) is not out of the picture yet.

United 757
United, despite having a replacement for the 757 on order, could still go for Boeing’s NMA aircraft. Photo: Tomas del Coro via Flickr

United could still order the Boeing NMA

Flightglobal reports that United has not yet ruled out the Boeing NMA and, when asked, said:

Boeing currently does not have an aircraft equivalent to the A321XLR to meet our specific operational needs. We will take a look at the NMA.

Boeing 797
Boeing’s NMA is still on United’s radar. Photo: Dj’s Aviation via Youtube

Why this makes no sense for United Airlines

United Airlines states that the airline currently has 75 Boeing 757 aircraft in operation. The smaller 757-200s are due to be replaced on a near 1-to-1 basis with Airbus A321XLR aircraft per the airline’s order.

United A321XLR
United plans on replacing Boeing 757-200s with Airbus A321XLR aircraft. Photo: Airbus

While long-haul narrowbody operations have some great advantages, there are limits to how much United can do with two sets of aircraft filling, arguably, the same niche. Although United needs a replacement for the 757-300, United does have 100 Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft on order as well. These aircraft, if the 737 MAX 10s do receive lie-flats, replace some of the 757 routes while also representing a bit of a premium product upgrade for the 757-300.

United 737 MAX 10
With 100 Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft on order, United could use some of these to replace the 757-300s. Photo: Boeing

So, United has the 757 pretty much catered for in terms of replacement. Which is why it makes no sense that United would still consider the NMA. In terms of Boeing 767 aircraft, United is still anticipating additional 787 aircraft and could definitely tack on additional 787 orders to cover the 767s. So, United really has a very minimal need for the NMA and it would occupy a relatively insignificant chunk of United’s fleet.

United 767
United pretty much has the 767 covered as well. Photo: Mark Harkin via Flickr

Why this makes perfect sense for United

With only two major aircraft manufacturers in existence (for now), airlines have to walk a fine line between remaining in each manufacturer’s good graces while also getting the best deal possible. So, for United to say the airline is still considering the NMA does not commit the airline to order for the aircraft, but could keep Boeing happy for now. And, if United’s new management team develops a new vision for the airline, who knows, maybe the NMA could fill in a very interesting niche with United.

United Airlines 787
Even though United has a more Boeing-skewed fleet, the airline does have to walk a fine line with the American manufacturer. Photo: Simple Flying

Overall, it is always good for an airline to keep its options open for further fleet development. Not to mention, the overall economy could change towards an increase in long-haul narrowbody flights. Of course, nothing is guaranteed in the airline industry.

Do you think United Airlines should order the Boeing NMA? Let us know in the comments!


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Farhan Nazar

"for United to say the airline is still considering the NMA does not commit the airline to order for the aircraft, but could keep Boeing happy for now"

David G

Agree, and at the same time may make Airbus sharpen their pencil to make a great offer on some A330’s to replace the B767’s.
Would love to look into the future and see where Boeing stands in, say, five years time.

David C.

By saying that, it means that Airbus still has to offer steep discounts on further XLR orders. But in the meantime, Boeing is not in a place where they can commit to a clean sheet design. And if they did, they would have to choose between the NMA or a clean sheet 737 replacement. I doubt they could commit to both at the same time, especially with the damage to the reputation and the stigma attached to the MAX (The cash cow of the company) and the lingering development lag on the 777x.

Farhan Nazar

That's the simple answer to it really…..


Is there any other airline, besides the American ones, that has said it needs the NMA?

Maybe the NMA is a business for 300-400 planes. And if so, there is no business.


This is not a huge order. More a holding one.


I don’t think Boeing can afford either at the moment in New air frames.
As they need to watch that they do not any subsidies from any of the government’s in doing it.
Apart from I think they are cash strapped as well with all the payouts they are doing.

Paul Proctor

I agree a holding order. If Boeing does NMA right, as a twin-aisle quick-turn, hyper-efficient jetliner, it can cover a lot of the area between the 737 and 787. Remember, a carrier the size and import of United can cancel Airbus (and Boeing) orders with virtually no penalty, for if the jet maker insists on big financial penalties, it risks shutting itself out of future orders from one of the biggest customers out there. The current United A350 deferrals are a subset of this game and I believe they won’t be delivered.


Yes, they should. I am an engineer for Boeing and even though the design is not yet at a stage of offerability to airline customers, the rough concept of NMA seems to be a better fit for United than a long range A321. NMA has the flexibility to be configured as either a single-aisle or twin-aisle interior configuration. This makes it useful for both international and domestic flights. UAL uses its 757 fleet for transcontinental routes (west coast to east and back) offering a more premium level of service than you get on it’s long range 737s on these routes.… Read more »