Despite an existing order for 35 frames United Airlines will not be taking the A350-1000 type into its fleet. It will, however, add 45 of the –900 model. The order revision was announced today as part of a presentation at the Cowen Global Transportation Conference. Deliveries are slated to start in 2022.
The original United A350 order, announced in late 2009, was for 25 of the –900 type. That order later converted to the –1000 and increased to 35 frames. The –1000 up-gauge focused on replacing the company’s aging 747-400 fleet. The 744s are being retired this year and replaced with the Boeing 777-300ER rather than the A350s. Part of that is available delivery slots and part is the ability to buy the 777s cheap to help bridge the Boeing production line. In the end, however, United did not need the A350-1000s. It deferred delivery of the 2018 frames and the future of the order was unclear.
Adding to confusion around the future of the order was a comment from President Scott Kirby that the A350 is a great plane but also that a 35-frame order didn’t make sense.
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Now we know that the the A350 order will be larger and used to start replacing the 777-200ER fleet, the backbone of the company’s long-haul network. United operates more than 70 777-200s today (not all are ERs) and that fleet is aging such that a replacement cycle starting in 5ish years makes a lot of sense.
With the –900 model United gets a frame that matches the capacity and range of its 772s better than most of the Boeing options available. There are also the 787-10 frames on order, of course, but the A350-900s help balance the overall fleet growth.
For passengers the really good news is that United is unlikely to go 10-abreast on the A350 in economy. Compared to the certainty of the 9-abreast 787 or 10-abreast 777s the company is converting to these days the 9-abreast A350 offers a notably wider seat.
And, of course, with a 2022 delivery date there’s plenty of time for future tweaks to the order.
Header Image: A350/United rendering from Airbus