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United eyes A330neo and NMA for fleet replacement

United Airlines is considering the Airbus A330-800neo and Boeing New Mid-market Airplane (NMA) among options to replace its fleet of aging Boeing 757s and 767s.

The Chicago-based carrier is looking at replacements for its 77 757-200 and -300s, and 51 767-300ERs in the near term, a presentation by senior vice-president of finance, procurement and treasurer Gerry Laderman on 27 February shows.

The A330-900neo and NMA are joined by the Airbus A321neo, Boeing 737 Max 10 and Boeing 787-8 as replacement options for the fleet, his presentation shows.

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United's upcoming fleet replacement decisions

United Airlines

United's 757-200s have an average age of 21.8 years, its 757-300s 15.5 years and its 767-300ERs 22.7 years, Flight Fleets Analyzer shows.

The airline targets an average life for its aircraft of around 25 years, Laderman's presentation shows.

United and other US carriers face a similar quandary over what to replace aging 757s and 767s with. Most domestic 757s have been replaced by A321s and 737-900ERs, but neither Airbus nor Boeing have released a comparably sized replacement for longer missions across the Atlantic or to South America.

Airbus plans to take some of the transatlantic 757 market with its A321LR, which will have a range of 4,000nm (7,048km) compared to up to 3,915nm for the 757-200, that is due to enter service this year.

However, multiple airlines that have looked at the A321LR say it will not be capable of carrying as high of a payload as the 757 across the Atlantic.

For the 767, airlines have said that the A330neo is too large while the 787-8 has too much range for the specific missions they are looking at. Many 767s fly across the Atlantic on higher density routes than the 757, but also to farther flung points in Europe, South America and even in Asia.

“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,” said Scott Kirby, president of United, on the 767 in January 2017. “But it also serves missions that the other aircraft would be hard-pressed, at least in today’s economics, to find.”

American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker has expressed similar sentiments regarding the future of its fleet of 54 767-300ERs.

Boeing is considering launching the NMA with seats for 220-280 passengers a range of about 7,000nm. The aircraft could potentially be a good 757-300 and 767-300ER replacement.

Delta Air Lines is also interested in the NMA, with chief executive Ed Bastian reportedly telling employees earlier in February that it hoped to launch the aircraft.

"Delta finds [the NMA] to be an interesting concept and could be a long-term replacement for some 757s and 767s," the Atlanta-based carrier told FlightGlobal at the time.

Long term, United is considering replacements for its A320 family and 737-700 and -800 fleets, Laderman's presentation shows. It operates 65 A319s, 97 A320s, 40 737-700s and 141 737-800s, according to Fleets Analyzer.

The carrier is considering used models of both aircraft families, as well as the A320neo family, 737 Max family, Bombardier CSeries and Embraer 195-E2 as possible replacements.

United has firm orders for 161 737 Max, including 61 Max 9 and 100 Max 10, its fleet plan shows. It expects its first 10 737-9s this year with deliveries beginning in April.

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