United Airlines will rely more heavily on its Boeing 737 Max 9 fleet as the US airframer is having trouble delivering other Max variants, including the yet-to-be certificated higher-gauge Max 10.

Chief financial officer Mike Leskinen told an investor conference on 20 February that the Chicago-based carrier is continuing to execute on its “United Next” long-term fleet renewal strategy, announced in June 2021, but with a different mix of aircraft than the airline had earlier planned.

“United Next is working in a tremendous way,” Leskinen says. “We are going to continue to grow at a rate materially above [gross domestic product] as far as I can see. The mixture of that growth had been reliant on Max 10s and what you’re going see now is much more Max 9 and A321 aircraft, the mix of which I don’t know yet. It’s going to depend on the prices.”

Leskinen adds that United is “deeply disappointed” in Boeing’s delivery delays.

United Airlines first 737 Max 9 flight

Source: United Airlines

United Airlines will rely more on its fleet of Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft as the US manufacturer deals with delivery delays

But putting all of its eggs in the Max 9 basket could also pose risks for United, one of the largest operators of the type. In early January, United’s 79-strong Max 9 fleet was grounded after an Alaska Airlines example suffered an in-flight rapid decompression incident when one of its door plugs blew out just after take-off. That led to hundreds of cancelled flights as each aircraft went through additional FAA-mandated inspections.

In late January, chief executive Scott Kirby said the carrier had removed the Max 10 – for which United holds over 230 orders – from its internal planning, although he pointed out that the order was not being cancelled.

“We’ll be working on what that means exactly with Boeing,” Kirby said on the company’s quarterly earnings call on 23 January. “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.”

In November, the US Federal Aviation Administration had approved Boeing to begin the certification flight-test programme for its 737 Max 10, which the manufacturer hopes to complete this year.

The Max 10 variant of the popular single-aisle aircraft will be capable of carrying up to 230 passengers and will have 3,100nm (5,741km) of range, according to Boeing. The type has proved a strong seller for Boeing, which holds unfilled orders for 963 737 Max 10s, its data show. Airlines that have placed sizeable orders for the type include Alaska, Delta Air Lines, Ryanair, United and VietJet, according to Cirium fleets data.

While United waits for its new aircraft, Leskinen says the carrier is making alternate plans as it seeks to continue to implement its growth plans on its own terms. 

“We are not going to grow through densification, we are going to grow through great product with premium options for our customers,” Leskinen says. ”We have some options on the margins to extend the life of some of the aircraft. And we have some option to mix some additional Airbus product into what is a Boeing-heavy fleet.”