United Airlines has removed the Boeing 737 Max 10 from its fleet plan and is looking at “alternate options”, as the impact of the recent in-flight loss of a door plug on an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 potentially spreads to other variants.

Speaking on a United earnings call on 23 January, chief executive Scott Kirby said that while the carrier is “not cancelling the order” for Max 10s, it has taken the variant out of “internal plans”.

United Max 9

Source: Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock

United is the largest operator of the Max 9 globally

“We’ll be working on what that means exactly with Boeing,” Kirby states. “Boeing is not going to be able to meet their contractual deliveries on at least many of those airplanes.

“I’ll just leave it at that.”

United has more than 230 Max 10s on order, plus another 200 options for the variant. The Federal Aviation Administration approved Boeing to begin the certification flight-test programme for the Max 10 in November last year, with the airframer then aiming to achieve certification later this year.

But United chief financial officer Michael Leskinen describes the grounding of Max 9s in response to the door plug incident as “the straw that broke the camel’s back with believing the Max 10 will deliver on the schedule we had hoped for”. The carrier is now working on the assumption that certification will be delayed.

”We’re working on alternate plans to see how much higher we can elevate the growth with the Max 10 out,” Leskinen says. 

He adds that United expects its capacity growth “to slow in the coming years” versus previous assumptions, as a result of the Max issues.

Aside from the expected Max 10 delay, Leskinen notes that United does not expect to receive all of the 31 Max 9s that are due for delivery in 2024, as the grounding of that variant continues.

Furthermore, he says United believes the reduction in deliveries from Boeing as a result of the Max 9 door plug incident will spill into 2025.

Supply-chain issues are also continuing to weigh on capacity at United and in the wider industry, the carrier notes.

United is the largest operator of Max 9 jets globally, with 79 of the variant in its fleet at the time of the grounding earlier this month.

The airline’s current assumption is that those jets will remain grounded until the end of January and that it will be loss-making in the first quarter as a result. It maintains a positive outlook for the full year, however. 

United recently began operations with its first Airbus A321neo twinjets from an order for more than 120 of a type that is considered a direct competitor to the Max 10.