United Airlines continues to evaluate the newly launched Airbus A321XLR for its middle-of-the-market needs, but does not see the aircraft as a full solution to the gap in its fleet.
"The XLR doesn't solve the [Boeing] 767 replacement issue," Gerry Laderman, the US carrier's chief financial officer, told reporters at the Paris air show.
The A321XLR, which Airbus launched at the show, will have a range of 4,700nm (8,704km) and seat roughly 200 passengers in a standard two-class configuration. It will have 30% lower fuel burn compared with the 757, the European airframer says.
The issue for United, as well as other US carriers, is that many need a replacement for both the 757 and 767. Airbus has taken a two-pronged approach to the segment, pitching its A330-800 as a 767 replacement and now the A321XLR for the 757 segment.
This strategy may work for carriers with both A320neo and A330 models in their fleets but is a tough sell for United, which operates neither family.
American Airlines has opted to split its mid-market orders between additional Boeing 787-8s to replace its 767-300ERs, and is widely expected to commit to the A321XLR for the 757. The airline operates five A321neos and has firm orders for another 95 aircraft, Cirium's Fleets Analyzer shows.
Delta Air Lines and United were both actively pushing Boeing to launch its proposed New Mid-market Airplane (NMA) prior to the 737 Max grounding in March. The NMA is expected to cover both the 757 and 767 segments with two variants which could seat 200-270 passengers with a range of 4,000-5,000nm.
United, in its mid-market deliberations, must weigh the cost of adding a new potentially optimally sized aircraft type, like the A321XLR or NMA, against the savings of additional 737 Max or 787 aircraft which may not be perfectly suited for mid-market missions, Laderman has said previously.
The airline operates 172 Airbus A319/320s but, as a primarily Boeing operator, has no commitments for the A320neo family of which the A321XLR is part.
"At the end of the day, people underestimate the cost of complexity of multiple fleet types," says Laderman. "That's very important to us."
Scott Kirby, the airline's president, has previously said that United needs 30-40 mid-market aircraft to replace 757s and 767s in its fleet. It operated 130 of the types at the end of March, its latest fleet plan shows.
Airbus launched the A321XLR with firm orders for 27 from Air Lease. It is expected to announce further orders, potentially from AirAsia or either American or JetBlue Airways, later at the show.