United Airlines makes a habit of upsetting its creator when it comes to buying new airliners. With origins that can be traced back to the in-house airline Boeing Air Transport set up in 1927, United shocked Seattle back in 1992 when it rejected a "slam-dunk" deal for the 737-400 in favour of the Airbus A320.

The loss of United - a launch 737 customer and, until that time, a staunch supporter of 7-Series jets - to its arch rival Airbus was a key catalyst in the airframer's decision to launch the Next Generation 737 family.

So one wonders whether the airline's latest Boeing rejection - that of the 777 in favour of the A350-900 - could set the ball rolling for a similar response. Egged on by the likes of Emirates and British Airways, Boeing has long been pondering what to do about its best-selling widebody twinjet. And it is becoming ever clearer that some hard decisions are now needed.

Airbus A350-900 

Boeing, which is examining both 777 refresh and all-new options, knows full well that the cheaper, lower risk route is not always the best answer. Airbus proved this with its A330-based A350 mark 1, and Boeing must still be wondering if it was prudent to spend billions on warming up the 747. While the addition of Korean Air as a second 747-8I airline customer has given the programme a boost, there is no escaping the fact that this variant must hold the ominous record of being its slowest-selling new airliner ever.

Source: Flight International