United Airlines has announced the largest widebody order by a US carrier in the history of commercial aviation. The order for 100 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, with options to purchase a further 100, is the next chapter in the airline’s ambitious United Next plan, which will improve the airline’s environmental sustainability, fuel costs, and passenger experience.
The Dreamliners are expected to be delivered between 2024 and 2032, with the exact selection of models yet to be decided. United will choose from the 787-8, -9 and -10 models, which offer varying passenger capacities to support different route profiles.
Approximately 100 of the Dreamliners in the new widebody order are expected to replace United’s older B767 and B777 aircraft, with all its B767s due to be removed from its fleet by 2030. United expects this fleet renewal to result in up to an expected 25% decrease in carbon emissions per seat for the new planes compared to the older planes they are expected to replace. The airline is aiming to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets.
While not as large like the B787 order, United has also exercised sizeable options to purchase 44 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for delivery between 2024 and 2026 , to help meet its United Next 2026 capacity plan, and ordered 56 more MAX aircraft for delivery between 2027 and 2028.
With this new order, United Airlines now expects to take delivery of about 700 new narrowbody and widebody aircraft by the end of 2032, making for an average of more than two deliveries every week in 2023, and more than three every week in 2024. The Boeing and United delivery teams will certainly become well acquainted with each other.
Orders for hundreds of new aircraft equates to orders for hundreds of cabin products, from galleys to lavatories, carpets to linings, and for thousands of seats, IFE monitors, seat covers, seat belts, life vests… the list goes on, but big orders like United is making are great news for the aircraft interiors sector.
Better still, United is continuing the interiors upgrade programme for its existing aircraft fleet. More than 90% of the carrier’s international widebodies now feature the United Polaris business-class seat, as well as United Premium Plus seating, with upgrades for the remaining aircraft due to be completed by summer 2023. United also will retrofit its entire mainline, narrowbody fleet with its ‘signature interior’, with around 100 aircraft scheduled to be completed in 2023 and the remaining expected to be completed by the end of 2025.
“United emerged from the pandemic as the world’s leading global airline and the flag carrier of the United States,” said United’s CEO, Scott Kirby. “This order further solidifies our lead and creates new opportunities for our customers, employees and shareholders by accelerating our plan to connect more people to more places around the globe and deliver the best experience in the sky.”
A decade of growth
The firm order for B787 aircraft addresses United’s current widebody aircraft replacement needs through the next decade, with reduced maintenance requirements and fuel burn that help reduce costs. In partnership with Boeing, this order also helps United maintain flexibility with the timing of its widebody aircraft retirements. At the same time, the B787 options allow United to continue to grow its global network.
“This order solves for our current widebody replacement needs in a more fuel-efficient and cost-efficient way, while also giving our customers a best-in-class experience,” added Gerry Laderman, United’s EVP and CFO. “And if the future of long-haul flying is as bright as we think it will be, United is able to capitalise on those opportunities by exercising these new widebody options – I look forward to the incremental margin and earnings these aircraft will generate.”
The exercised options for MAX aircraft are consistent with the 2026 capacity and two margin targets associated with the United Next plan. United also has started to build the order book for 2027 and beyond with the firm order for 56 additional MAX aircraft.
Aircraft orders create careers
United’s Boeing order also is expected to lead to increased recruitment – the airline hired 15,000 people in 2022 and is on track to add another 15,000 next year. Vacancies can be viewed at careers.united.com.
“When I look at our culture and the trajectory of our brand and company, I know this is the best time to join United Airlines,” said Kate Gebo, United’s EVP of human resources and labour relations. “We’re not just creating jobs – these are long-lasting careers that offer great pay, outstanding benefits and flight privileges to see the world. And the best part is we’re actively hiring across every role at the airline.”