United has little interest in the Boeing 747-8

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As United Airlines prepares to receive responses from Airbus and Boeing in July for a significant aircraft order, the Boeing 747-8 is largely excluded from the carrier's request for proposal.

"We're focused on a new technology aircraft to materially improve cost performance," said United senior vice president corporate planning and strategy Greg Taylor today during the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch transportation conference. The 747-8 is "not on the top of our list", he adds.

United has specified to each manufacturer the aircraft it is most interested in, and Taylor explains the carrier has "left the door open for creativity".

Airbus and Boeing are formally submitting offers next month and Taylor says United plans to continue discussions with the manufacturers through the summer. Once it has made a decision and United has updated its board the carrier could place an order in the fourth quarter.

Echoing comments made recently by United chief executive officer Glenn Tilton, Taylor emphasizes the carrier has no plans to place an order that jeopardises its liquidity position. If at the end of the summer the conditions offered by the aircraft manufacturer rivals don't make sense "we won't go forward", Taylor explains.

Touting now is a good time to hold discussions with manufacturers Taylor says there have been "virtually no new orders" in the market right now. While there are orders on the books, "we think they're [the manufacturers] relatively hungry for new orders".

The carrier's potential order is a largely a fleet replacement programme. United just retired its oldest Boeing 737 classics. The first aircraft of the remaining fleet reaches the 25-year milestone roughly five years from now, but in that five-to-ten year period about half of United's fleet should reach that age.

United is crafting its fleet replacement plan to avoid a "bulge in deliveries", Taylor explains.

As the evaluations by United continue, Taylor explains the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 would open up markets not currently economically viable to the carrier, and "bring really nice costs improvements when we start taking delivery of them".