United Airlines is evaluating options for a replacement of its Boeing 767 fleet, as part of its on-going widebody fleet review.
The 767 is the only aircraft that the Chicago-based carrier does not have a “line of sight” in terms of a replacement in its fleet, said president Scott Kirby in a recorded question and answer session with employees in Denver viewed by FlightGlobal.
"The big open question for us is what’s going to replace our 767s," he said at the event earlier in January.
United operates 35 767-300ERs with an average age of 22 years and 16 767-400ERs with an average age of 16 years, the Flight Fleets Analyzer shows.
“It’s a great airplane [but] it’s getting a little old and if we’re going to keep flying them longer we’re going to need to make some investments in extending the life,” says Kirby. “But it also serves missions that the other aircraft would be hard-pressed, at least in today’s economics, to find.”
It is unclear what could replace the 767. Ron Baur, vice-president of fleet at United, said in May 2014 that the Boeing 787-9 was "ultimately a replacement for the 767-300ER". However, the airline has used the 19 787-9s it has taken since then for growth rather than replacement.
In addition, the airline opted to refurbish the interiors and extend the life of 21 767-300ERs as oil prices fell in early 2015.
Additional 787s could be ordered to replace the 767, however, the high capital costs of the next generation widebody are widely seen as a disincentive for such a move.
The Airbus A330neo, which will be more efficient than the 767 yet have lower capital costs than either the Airbus A350 or 787, is another replacement possibility. For example, Delta Air Lines has ordered 25 A330-900neos to replace some of its 767-300ERs.
United executives have said that they are reviewing its order for 35 A350-1000s, raising the possibility that it could convert some or all of the order to the smaller A330neo.
Kirby says that the airline is talking to both Airbus and Boeing about widebodies.
WIDEBODIES IN FLUX
United has firm widebody orders for 12 Boeing 777-300ERs, four 787-9s and 14 787-10s, in addition to the A350s, Fleets Analyzer shows.
The carrier is replacing its 20 Boeing 747-400s with the 777s, and has previously said that the A350s will also replace the venerable 747. The 787-10 would be a suitable replacement for some of its 74 777-200s.
United began a review of both its narrowbody and widebody fleet and orders after Kirby and chief financial officer Andrew Levy joined in August 2016.
The new leadership team’s first action, in November 2016, was to convert an order for 65 Boeing 737-700s to four 737-800s due this year, and 61 737 Max with no set delivery date.
“Our fleet review is a work in progress and we will update you later this year,” said Levy during an annual earnings call earlier in January. He added that they will share the results “as soon as our work is done”.
Levy also said United is "actively" seeking used aircraft.