In a sign of confidence in the Boeing 737 MAX and a need for additional aircraft, United Airlines has increased its order for Boeing 737 MAX jets by 25 planes. In addition, the airline has also accelerated the delivery timeline for the jet, which will allow the airline to take new jets sooner, increase its gauge, and prepare for heavy flying during a sustained recovery.
United Airlines adds 25 Boeing 737 MAX planes
Already with a robust order book and mostly intact feed, United has announced it was not quite satisfied with its order book and is adding 25 planes to its 737 MAX order. All 25 of these new jets are due for delivery in 2023, which will allow the airline to take more of the next generation of Boeing 737 narrowbody jets in a time when the airline expects to be in a bit of a more sustained recovery.
The order was finalized on February 26th, and with the new jets, the airline will fly 210 MAX jets once deliveries are complete. At least 100 of the MAX jets will be the MAX 10.\
In response, Ihssane Mounir, Boeing vice president of Commercial Sales and Marketing told Simple Flying,
“We are humbled by United’s vote of confidence in the 737 family and the Boeing team. This order also reflects our shared view that air travel and our industry are resilient and will recover.”
The airline has also accelerated its delivery timeline. The airline will take 40 new Boeing 737 MAX jets in 2022 and 54 in 2023. Heading into 2023, the airline will have 127 jets outstanding, awaiting delivery. Aircraft deliveries can be fluid, so some deliveries may slip– especially those at the end of the year– but, those delivery delays should not materially impact the fleet plans with only a few delays likely.
In a memo from Andrew Nocella, Chief Commercial Officer at United, to the airline’s employees discussing the new order, he stated the following:
“Today, we’re even more confident in our ability to navigate the recovery, regardless of the inevitable bumps and dips in the months ahead. With a number of our aircraft nearing the end of their lifecycle and the growth opportunities that we know will exist in the COVID-19 recovery period, this agreement will help us to grow as demand returns and renew our fleet with more environmentally friendly, customer-pleasing aircraft.”
The current MAX fleet
According to data from Planespotters.net, United’s 737 MAX fleet totals 30 of the MAX 9 variant. Boeing has worked hard to deliver the jets since the grounding was lifted in November. United was actually the first airline to receive a Boeing 737 MAX post-ungrounding. United only officially resumed commercial Boeing 737 MAX flights in mid-February.
With 14 MAX 9s in the fleet before the grounding started, United took delivery of eight MAX 9s before the year closed out and added another eight just in the first two months of 2021, taking its fleet to 30 jets with more on order.
A further 21 Boeing 737 MAX jets are expected to arrive throughout 2021, with some having already been delivered, taking United’s overall MAX fleet to over 50 jets by the end of 2021.
Position for a recovery
United’s Andrew Nocella spoke extensively of the recovery in the airline’s fourth-quarter earnings call. The airline expects demand to increase sharply in the second half of 2021, as the vaccine rollouts continue, with leisure travel taking the win for the fastest recovery.
In terms of how the MAX fits in, the larger gauge aircraft will help the airline in the following ways:
“United’s hub cities are optimally positioned to best participate in this recovery. United’s coastal gateway cities are simply the best gateways for overseas travel to Europe and Asia. We also plan to get back on track with enhancing connectivity in our mid-con hubs, and pushing aircraft cage up as we retire or a single class 50 seat jets.
“While domestic margins may be under more pressure in the next cycle relative to the last, we intend to offset that pressure with changes to gauge and connectivity– a measurement we trail our key competitors on by a substantial margin.”
The MAX is currently flying out of United’s mid-continent hubs. Data from RadarBox shows exactly where the jets are flying:
As you can see from the above map, captured at the time of writing of the article, the airline’s MAX jets are mostly flying out of its mid-continent hubs, including Denver and Houston. These hubs are optimally positioned to handle the domestic traffic that is currently flying. The MAX jets are also making some of their rotations over to Chicago.
As United gets more MAX jets, expect these planes to continue doing rotations out of the airline’s most profitable domestic hubs. United can fly larger aircraft out of these hubs with a higher chance that it can keep its aircraft full and profitable.
United can also use these aircraft to replace some of its aging Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft. Some 757 retirements are also possible, though United may wait until the MAX 10s come around before waving goodbye to any of those jets. The MAX 10s are not expected to arrive until 2023, at the soonest.
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