United Airlines has taken a different stance compared to its network competitors. The airline has not announced significant fleet retirements and has continued to maintain a robust order book. With over 800 aircraft in its fleet, United Airlines, once smaller than Delta, now beats the airline by over 40 jets.
United Airlines’ order book
United Airlines has over 270 aircraft on order split across the following:
- 50 Airbus A321XLRs
- 45 Airbus A350s
- 171 Boeing 737 MAXs
- 11 Boeing 787s
United Airlines has 19 contractual deliveries in the fourth quarter of 2020, comprising three Boeing 787s and 16 737 MAX aircraft. While the MAX aircraft remain grounded, once the grounding is lifted, if it does happen this year as many expect it to, Boeing could deliver some jets to the aircraft.
The airline also has 15 firm Embraer E175 orders with 11 due in the last three months of 2020. These aircraft are not for United itself; rather, the jets will go out to a regional carrier United has a contract with.
However, that is not all United has on order. The carrier also has agreements to purchase 20 used Airbus A319s with delivery dates through 2022, and 11 used Boeing 737-700s with delivery dates currently expected through 2021.
No major fleet retirements
According to data from Planespotters.net, United Airlines has 805 aircraft in its fleet, of which around 325 are currently stored. The oldest of these aircraft are the Boeing 757, 767s, and 777-200s.
Early on, American Airlines announced plans to retire all of its Boeing 757s and 767s. Delta Air Lines announced plans to withdraw all of its Boeing 777s by the end of this month and the remaining 767-300ERs by 2025.
United Airlines, meanwhile, has been investing in its 767s by retrofitting them with the carrier’s new Polaris business class. While the 787 retrofits have continued, the 767s remain paused. It is unclear if United is planning to retire these aircraft. Select 767s are outfitted in an incredibly premium configuration, which might not be an ideal configuration in the current environment.
The 757s and 767s would be ideal candidates for retirement; however, United Airlines has not yet determined the final plans for these aircraft. While they would be candidates for retirement, United appears to be waiting to see what happens with the world before retiring any of these jets. While United could replace the 757s with the A321XLRs, there is no clear replacement for the 767s right now, and United is planning on using them for a new route.
What is United’s strategy?
United Airlines has scaled back its network where it must, but the airline has also sought out new opportunities to launch flights. The carrier is growing its short- and medium-haul Latin American network and its long-haul operations to India, Africa, and Hawaii.
Right now, launching new routes is not necessarily a bad idea. United Airlines has to find revenue where it can, and a parked jet does not make money. So, rather than operating what the airline flew beforehand, it makes sense to try out new routes that could work well in the current environment.
As for its fleet, well, United’s team has been more optimistic and hopeful that, after a vaccine, United will be on its way to a strong recovery, and for that, it will need an expansive fleet.
For now, at least, United has held off from retiring a staggering number of aircraft with plans instead to augment its fleet.
Do you think United will retire any aircraft as a result of the crisis? Let us know in the comments!