United Airlines eyes Airbus A321 neo jets amid Boeing 737 MAX 10 delay

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United Airlines has reportedly approached Airbus about purchasing additional A321neo jets to potentially fill a gap left by the delayed Boeing 737 MAX 10. This move comes as United seeks alternatives amidst concerns over the certification of the MAX 10, following a recent mid-air emergency involving an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9.

Industry sources revealed that United CEO Scott Kirby visited Airbus headquarters in Toulouse to discuss a possible deal, aiming to ease the deadlock over a separate order for larger jets that has faced long delays. While no agreement has been reached yet, talks are reportedly at an early stage, and both Airbus and United Airlines declined to comment on the matter.

Kirby’s visit to Toulouse marks a significant development in the ongoing crisis at Boeing, as the company grapples with production quality and safety issues while trying to prevent the unraveling of key orders. United Airlines has not canceled any of its 277 MAX 10 orders but has removed them from internal plans, raising questions about how the airline will address the potential gap in its fleet, especially considering Airbus’s high demand and limited availability of the A321neo.

Airbus has been seeking to repurchase A321neo positions from the market to be prepared in case an opportunity arises. The potential deal between Airbus and United would depend on the availability of the A321neo and the status of United’s contract with Boeing, which is expected to be the subject of intense discussions.

While United has not canceled its MAX 10 orders, Kirby indicated that Boeing might not be able to meet its contractual delivery commitments for many of those airplanes. This uncertainty has prompted United to explore alternatives, including potential deals with Airbus.

The possibility of a deal with Airbus has raised concerns at Boeing, although Airbus currently lacks the clarity that United and other airlines seek regarding the certification timeline for the MAX 10. Boeing has pledged to address quality issues but declined to comment on the commercial discussions with United and Airbus.

As discussions continue, Airbus maintains a strong position in the market, particularly with its A321neo, which has a significant lead over the upcoming Boeing 737 MAX 10 in the 240-seat category. Meanwhile, Airbus has faced delays in delivering its larger A350 jets to United, with orders pushed back to around 2030 following a merger between United and Continental Airlines.

Industry sources suggest that any potential deal for A321neo jets with United would likely involve revisiting the airline’s existing order for 45 A350s from Airbus, potentially including a firmer timeline for deliveries. United’s Chief Financial Officer, Michael Leskinen, mentioned that the airline is looking to start taking deliveries of A350s in the early part of the next decade to replace older Boeing 777s.

United has historically been a battleground for Airbus and Boeing, with the former challenging the latter’s dominance. Airbus secured a significant order from United in 1992, breaking the airline’s reliance on Boeing and contributing to the launch of the 737NG, the predecessor of the MAX.

The ongoing MAX crisis and broader market dynamics are expected to be key topics at an upcoming aviation financiers’ meeting in Dublin, where industry players will likely discuss the implications of these developments on the future of the aviation market.

(Source: Bloomberg | Reuters | MSN)

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