United Airlines has signed letters of intent with two lessors to acquire 35 new Airbus A321neos starting in 2026, in a move backfilling Boeing 737 Max 10s dropped from its fleet plan. 

The new strategy will “allow for a more-consistent delivery schedule” of about 100 narrowbody jets annually between 2025 and 2027, the Chicago-headquartered carrier said on 16 April, when it also disclosed its first-quarter financial results.

The jets will be powered by CFM International Leap-1A engines. United does not reveal which lessors will deliver the jets or the financial terms of the deals. 

”We’ve adjusted our fleet plan to better reflect the reality of what the manufacturers are able to deliver,” says chief executive Scott Kirby. “And we’ll use those planes to capitalise on an opportunity that only United has, [to] profitably grow our mid-continent hubs and expand our highly profitable international network from our best-in-the-industry coastal hubs.”

Airbus A321neo

Source: Tomas Del Coro/Wikimedia Commons

United has signed a pair of deals to have 35 leased A321neos delivered between 2025 and 2027

The deal is another blow to Boeing’s beleaguered Max 10 programme, which remains in certification limbo. Last month, Kirby said the carrier was considering an order of A321neos to replace the Max 10s it has removed from its fleet plan, as certification of the largest variant of Boeing next-generation narrowbodies is pushed into 2025. 

United has seven A321neos in service and 173 more on order, according to Cirium fleets data. It holds orders for nearly 350 737 Max, including hundreds of Max 10s.

United has converted some Max 10 orders into Max 9s, with those aircraft expected in 2026 and 2027. It retains options to convert some back to Max 10s once that aircraft receives the blessing of the Federal Aviation Administration. 

Several years of manufacturing and certification delays created an aircraft delivery bottleneck for United. At the end of last year, it held contractual commitments for 183 narrowbody jets to be delivered in 2024, though the carrier anticipated only about 100 of those would be delivered. 

United further trimmed its expectations in response to the FAA briefly grounding some Max 9s after an Alaska Airlines Max 9 lost a mid-cabin door plug during a flight. 

United now anticipates receiving 61 narrowbody jets and five widebodies this year. 

”In the short run, the company expects a small number of aircraft previously scheduled to enter into service in the second quarter to be pushed into the third quarter,” United says, ”which is expected to have minimal impact on the company’s capacity plans”. 

United reports a first-quarter loss of $124 million, compared with a $194 million loss during the same period last year.

Revenue generated during the three-month period increased nearly 10%, to $12.5 billion from $11.4 billion.  

”These earnings reflect the approximately $200 million impact from the Boeing 737 Max 9 grounding, without which the company would have reported a quarterly profit,” United says.