United orders Boeing: The best unkept secret from the air show

United Airlines and Boeing have announced the United purchase of the Boeing 737 finally.  This hasn’t been much of a secret for almost 2 months but it does contain a small surprise.

United is buying 50 737-900ER aircraft immediately to start replacing older 757-200s which really wasn’t on the radar screen based on the rumor mill.  However, this makes sense as well.  United has some pretty old 757-200s with 45 in their fleet that are 21 years or older which are all original United Airlines 757s with Pratt & Whitney PW2000 engines.  Engines that no one regards as the superior choice for a 757.

United owns a total of 93 P&W powered 757s of which 84 will be 20 years old or older as of next year.  There are just 9 more P&W aircraft that will be 19 years old or newer.  It’s not hard to guess that the very oldest are being replaced with 737-900ER aircraft as fast as possible and almost certainly because the old Continental already has excellent operational experience with that very aircraft.  They know it can do the job today.

All of the original Rolls Royce powered Continental 757s are 18 years old or newer with the bulk of those considerably newer.  The Rolls Royce powered 757s remain a very viable aircraft to use for those long and thin routes to Europe and trans-continental routes in the United States.  Those will get replaced eventually but with later build 737-9MAX aircraft.

United says their 100 airplane order for the 737-MAX will be for the -9MAX and that those could be used to replace old aircraft or to expand the fleet.  Trust me when I say that those will be replacing old aircraft as the remaining 757s will be 20 years old or older by the time the -9MAX starts delivering in quantities to United.

Is this bad for Airbus?  I think not.  Boeing almost certainly won this fight on price and that’s OK.  There are still quite a few Airbus aircraft from the (old) United fleet that will require replacement as well.   The oldest are nearing 20 years old but don’t require replacement quite yet so there isn’t a firm order for their replacement quite yet.  Airbus will compete for the A320 replacements in a few years and will have a real chance at winning as it should have some production slots for time appropriate deliveries.

The A319 aircraft are fairly new and a sub-fleet really.  I expect that if United sees an opportunity to unload these aircraft and replace them with E-195 or, perhaps, a CSeries 300, they will.

There are lots of aircraft orders to come over the next few years.  Both United and Delta really haven’t addressed all their needs here in the United States and even US Airways will need to start thinking about the next step some time soon.


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