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United wants ‘clarity’ from Boeing on NMA

United Airlines is eager for Boeing to decide whether to launch its proposed New Mid-market Airplane (NMA), though the US carrier will give Boeing "a little" more time.

“We would like to see some clarity so we can make the choice, but we do have a little time we can wait,” chief financial officer Gerry Laderman told investors during United’s second quarter earnings call on 16 July.

Pressure mounted on Boeing to make a decision about its NMA when Airbus unveiled its A321XLR programme at the Paris air show in June.

"The XLR doesn't solve the 767 replacement issue," Laderman told reporters at the Paris air show.

The Chicago-based carrier needs 30-40 mid-market aircraft to replace 757s and 767s from the mid-2020s, United president Scott Kirby told employees during a San Francisco meeting at the end of March.

In 2018 Laderman said that, in addition to its 737 Max and 787s on order, United was considering the NMA, Airbus A330-800 and A321LR to fill its mid-market needs. The A321LR is currently the longest-range A321 variant, though the A321XRL is set to take that crown around 2023.

Airbus has said airlines will likely equip the 4,700nm-range (8,700km) A321XRL with about 200 seats, while A330neos can carry roughly 220-300 seats and have up to 8,153nm range, according to Airbus.

Boeing meanwhile is working to launch its NMA, which is expected to be a twin-aisle aircraft with up to 270 seats and 5,000nm range.

“As we always do, we have conversations with both manufacturers about their products, and Boeing is aware – and this is not just us – that the industry is wanting to know timing on the NMA,” Laderman said on 17 July.

Boeing has said its NMA will do more than replace large single-aisle aircraft like the 757.

"When you talk about the NMA value proposition, that is not a value proposition that addresses just the 757," Boeing vice-president of commercial sales and marketing Ihssane Mounir said at the air show. "It is a much broader proposition than the 757, in terms of market space, in terms of the capacity and the range it will address."

However, Boeing executives have stressed that NMA work remains secondary to the company's prime objective of getting the 737 Max's grounding lifted.

"Our focus remains on the safe and reliable return to service [of the Max]," Mounir said at the show. "We're working with our customers, we're working with the regulators, and that's our first priority, so we will stay focused on that."

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