I've said it once and I'll say it again, United Airlines has options with its Boeing 787 orders.
The Chicago-based carrier's latest order for 20 roughly 320-seat -10 variants only reconfirms this fact. The aircraft are slated to replace "older, less efficient aircraft", according to a release, but - considering that their deliveries are five years out - could really be used for anything.
If United maintains the replacement line, its Boeing 777-200s are the likeliest candidate. Its oldest 777s, which seat between 253 to 348 passengers, will be 24 years old when the -10s start arriving. This is just about the 25 year useful life that airlines generally use for aircraft, though many can and are flown longer.
Economic conditions could also easily change in five years - any one remember the generally optimistic outlooks that were maintained almost up to Lehman Brothers collapse and the ensuing credit crunch in 2008? United has time to change track and opt to either grow or shrink its fleet.
The airline declines to elaborate on its plans for the 787-10s beyond that they will be used as replacement aircraft.
United's order for 787s is now split between 39 -8s and -9s - it has not specified the breakdown - and 20 -10s. It has six -8s in its fleet.