United Airlines has ordered 45 total Airbus A350 jetliners, ten aircraft over its original order. It is ditching the largest model, the A350-1000, and replacing it with the A350-900, a smaller and more popular aircraft. The new deal has a price of $14 billion before discounts, while the previous agreement had a $12.6 billion price tag. The A350-900 will be the first Airbus wide-body jet to enter service with United.
United plans to use its incoming A350 aircraft to replace its aging Boeing 777-200ER fleet, which the airline hopes to begin retiring in 2022, at which time the fleet will be 25 years old. The A350-900 can seat up to 325 passengers in a standard three class configuration, and can be a cornerstone in United’s long-haul fleet when delivered.
“The A350-900 is an outstanding aircraft with the size and range to be an excellent replacement for our 777-200ERs. For the past year, United has done a complete review to ensure that we have the right long-term fleet strategy, and it was clear that the A350 aligns with our replacement needs and our network,” said United CFO Andrew Levy. “The combination of the range performance and efficiencies make the A350 an attractive aircraft for United. So, if we decide to make this the sole replacement of the 777 fleet, we will be able to do so on similar, very attractive, economic terms.”
“This updated and expanded order is a strong reaffirmation of the A350 XWB Family,” said John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer-Customers at Airbus. “United and Airbus have had a long and strong partnership for many years, and we’ve worked together to ensure their requirements for the future are met, if not exceeded. The airline’s decision to grow its widebody fleet with, for the first time, a wide-body model from Airbus, shows they know that the A350 will meet their financial and performance demands while pleasing their customers, who will enjoy the quietest and most comfortable cabin in its class.”
According to Airbus data, the switch brings the backlog of the A350-900 to 675, while shrinking the backlog of the A350-1000 to 1777.
United and Airbus made their original deal for 35 A350-1000 in 2013, and delivery for the aircraft was set to begin in 2019. However, deliveries of the 45 aircraft have been postponed until 2022-2027. United says that this is a cost saving measure (the move lowers near-term spending by about $1 billion).
United’s move from the A350-1000 to the A350-900 has a mixed effect at Airbus. It sacrifices what was a key endorsement for the struggling A350-1000, but it preserves a place in the wide-body fleet at United after a review that had raised doubts over the A350’s place at the American carrier.
This announcement comes as the European Airbus and Boeing, its American rival, compete to win orders for long haul planes. While Boeing has cut production plans for the 777 and 747 jumbo jets, which are its largest airliners, Airbus has been forced to cut production of its A380s.
The A350-1000 was designed to compete with the Boeing 777-300ER, whose production is slowing. However, since Boeing announced plans for the larger 777X, Airbus has struggled to preserve momentum with the plane
Sources say that United can still opt for the A350-1000 or another alternate model if the airline sees so fit.
“We have many more options that we can exercise at similar attractive economics,” said Levy.
The A350 XWB (extra-wide body) family is the newest and most efficient in the industry. It features an aerodynamic carbon fiber fuselage and wings, as well as new Rolls-Royce engines. Together, these features equate to a 25% reduction in fuel burn and emissions, as well as significantly lower maintenance costs.
Featured photo by Airbus