Airbus has sent United Airlines tailored specifications for the A321LR and A330neo, as the US carrier continues its evaluation of possible Boeing 757 and 767 replacements.
The customised specifications show possible seat counts and operator's empty weight for the A321LR, A330-800 and A330-900 based on United's requirements, the documents reviewed by FlightGlobal show. They were prepared in March and April for the airline.
The Chicago-based carrier is considering the aircraft, as well as Boeing's 737 Max 10, 787-8 and proposed New Mid-market Airplane (NMA), as possible replacements for its 757-200s and -300s, and 767-300ERs in the 2020s.
"We are always in discussions with our manufacturers on how to best update our fleet and have no announcements at this time," says United on the documents.
FlightGlobal understands that the specifications Airbus prepared for the airline are standard practice in major fleet campaigns. United has likely received similar documents from Boeing for the 737-10, 787-8 and proposed NMA.
"Our 767 and 757 replacement strategy will be a multi-faceted solution," said Gerry Laderman, acting chief financial officer and treasurer of United, in an interview with FlightGlobal in June.
Airbus details an A321LR with 178 seats, including 16 business, 72 extra-legroom economy and 90 in economy, for United, the specs show. The maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) for the aircraft is 89t (196,211lb), with a customised empty weight for United 54.7t or 54.4t with CFM International Leap-1A or Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines, respectively.
United is considering the A321LR, as well as Boeing's NMA, as a replacement for its 41 transatlantic-configured 757-200s, Laderman says. A separate fleet of 15 757s used for premium transcontinental domestic routes could be replaced by 737-10s, of which it already has 100 on order.
The airline configures its transatlantic 757-200s with 169 seats, or nine fewer than the proposed A321LR configuration.
The A330-800 is configured with 252 seats, including 51 first and business, 56 extra-legroom economy and 145 economy, for United, Airbus' specifications show. The MTOW is 242t, with a customised empty weight of 132t.
The A330-900 is configured with 303 seats, including 57 first and business, 32 extra-legroom economy and 214 economy, for United. The MTOW is also 242t, with a customised empty weight of 137t.
United is considering the A330-800 and NMA as replacements for its 767-300ERs, a presentation from February shows.
The airline configures its 35 767-300ERs with 214 seats. However, a proposed configuration for the aircraft with United's new premium economy cabin show the number dropping to 167 seats in the future premium-heavy layout.
Both the A330-800 and -900 are larger than the 767-300ERs in United's fleet, with the latter larger than even its Boeing 777-200s. The carrier has ordered 45 Airbus A350-900s to replace the 777s.
Airbus says it can customise the A330neo to meet airline needs, including reducing operating costs by lowering the MTOW and thrust rating of the engines.
"If you combine lower takeoff weight with the thrust, you can lower the cash operating cost by 5%," said Peter Finn, A330 family product marketing manager for customer affairs at Airbus, told FlightGlobal during the A330neo would tour earlier in July. Such a move would also reduce the range of the aircraft.
Airbus claims the A330neo has 25% lower fuel burn per seat than previous generation aircraft, including current generation A330s as well as 767s, with much of that coming from its Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines.
Airbus declines to comment on the specifications sent to United, saying it does not discuss talks with customers.
However, the airframer did fly the A330-900 to United's Chicago O'Hare base as part of a global route proving tour on 5 July. Representatives of the airliner were on the aircraft for a flight to Atlanta on 6 July.
United is not committed to a single replacement for its 757s and 767s, as Laderman pointed out. In addition, it still has to determine the timeline for those replacements.
"When you start the process of replacing a fleet, you've got to figure out the optimal pace to do that, and you get to the point where the fleets are small enough you might as well just get rid of the fleet," says Laderman. "We don't have timing for that yet."
The European airframer likely faces an uphill battle selling the A330neo to United, which has an all-Boeing widebody fleet. While the aircraft shares some commonality with the A350s on order, it would still be a standalone fleet type.
United executives considered a fleet of just 35 A350-1000s inefficient for its network, upping the order to 45 A350-900s last September. A fleet of fewer than 35 A330neos would likely face similar scepticism in the airline's leadership team.