Unlike some of its largest domestic rivals, United already flies both Airbus and Boeing planes, giving both manufacturers an incentive to try to grab a bigger share of a major airline's business. As part of its order, United is hoping to simplify its fleet by ending up with fewer different types of aircraft, a change that would cut its maintenance and crew-training costs.Citing 'people familiar with the matter', the WSJ says the focus of the order will be replacement of "many of United's 111-airplane wide-body fleet, as well as some of its 97 aging Boeing 757 narrow-body planes."
Just a year ago, United announced plans to downsize its fleet, a move that would include retiring six Boeing 747-400 aircraft, and all 94 of the Boeing 737 type. The airline also is in the process of reintegrating the 56 Airbus A320 aircraft that have been operating all-economy Ted flights into the mainline fleet, repainting them in the standard United livery, and reconfiguring the seating to include a First Class cabin.
Hundreds of United pilots are furloughed at present, and the elimination of 100 planes from its fleet over the space of a year has meant that many pilots have had to be retrained to fly different types of aircraft in order to keep their jobs. I can't help but wonder how United's pilots will view this intended expansion of the fleet, especially from a single airframer.
The timing of this proposed order for new aircraft is as surprising as its potential dollar value: the WSJ report indicates that United "could sign a major order as early as the fall." But perhaps the timing is more shrewd than it might seem at first glance. Says the WSJ:
It's a notable move amid falling travel demand and a tight lending environment -- on top of UAL's recent heavy losses and poor credit rating. But even in good times aircraft builders will go to considerable lengths to lock in an order, using in-house financing arms and other maneuvers to help airlines buy...In other words, UAL is in bargain-hunting mode, and the ace up its sleeve is the lure of a winner-take-all deal for either Boeing or Airbus.
Let the bidding war begin.