United Airlines sees a wave of next-generation jets as the key to unlocking more international routes, thanks to a massive order book for both the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350.
“These are the early days of a substantial fleet renewal” Matt Miller, United’s Managing Director, Japan and Pacific Sales, tells Australian Business Traveller.
“We’ve already taken delivery of nine Boeing 787s, we have 56 more on order plus 35 of the Airbus A350-1000… so our combined order book on next-generation widebody aircraft far exceeds even the number of current widebodies that we fly.”
“We see lots of new opportunities in the international area and the ability to service those from a widebody perspective has to do with our fleet planning” Miller adds.
United’s “fleet modernisation” hinges on both jets, Miller says.
“The A350 is designed to replace our Boeing 747s in time, and the Boeing 787s, the -8 and the -9, are really our Boeing 767 and Boeing 777-200 replacements.”
United’s first Boeing 787-9 will begin flying in the middle of this year, racking up a few months of domestic US routes before moving onto the transpacific trek between Melbourne and Los Angeles from October 28.
But its A350-1000s – the largest member of the Airbus A350 family, designed to seat around 350 passengers in a three-class layout – won’t start arriving until 2018.
Jumbo jets to keep flying
This means there’s plenty of miles still ahead for United’s jumbo jet fleet, and the plane often called the ‘queen of the skies’ could still be flying in United colours well into the next decade.
“The good thing about the 747 is that it’s still a great aircraft for us” Miller explains. “We’re still investing in installing WiFi and in-seat power because those are still going to be a core part of our business for the next few years.”
“This gives us the flexibility built into our fleet to maintain or retire any of our aircraft like the Boeing 747s or 777s, based on how the market is performing and what opportunities there are for new markets.”
Miller says that United has the ability to “shrink the fleet if the demand isn’t there or if things change, by retiring some of our older aircraft.”
“Or we can retain some of those for a few years more until we take delivery of more new aircraft and actually launch new markets.”
“Over the next three to five years we’ll be continually look at our fleet plan to decide what’s the right size for (United).”
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