United Airlines continues to hedge its bets regarding a potential conversion of some of its existing Boeing 787 orders to the Boeing 777-300ER.

“That is an aircraft that interests us,” say executives responding to analyst questions on the possible order during an earnings call today. Though they only refer to the order as “rumoured”, they say that the Chicago-based carrier has the “ability to negotiate substitution rights” with its manufacturers.

United is referring to Boeing, with whom it holds firm widebody orders for 24 787-9s and 27 787-10s, as well as options for another 10 787-8s and a letter of intent for 36 787s, the Ascend Fleets database shows.

“To be clear, the rumoured 777s that… we're looking at are not incremental airplanes,” adds Jeff Smisek, chairman and chief executive of United, forestalling any ideas that the airline was considering growing its widebody fleet.

The airline was first reported to be seriously considering an order for 10 777-300ERs by Bloomberg on 19 January. It later confirmed that it was considering the possibility of converting some of its existing orders or options to the 777 variant.

United’s latest fleet plan shows no change to its 787 deliveries or 777 fleet count in 2015. It will take delivery of 11 787-9s, bringing its total Dreamliner fleet to 25 by the end of the year, and will hold its fleet of 777-200s flat at 74 aircraft.

The airline does plan to remove two Boeing 747-400s from its fleet during the year. Executives say that this is a “good time” to remove them ahead of heavy maintenance events.

While United skirts the topic of a potential 777-300ER order, it continues to look for opportunities to acquire used narrowbody aircraft to replace 50-seat capacity that is exiting its regional fleet, says its chief financial officer John Rainey.

The carrier is looking for used narrowbody types that are already in its fleet, including the Airbus A319 and A320, and Boeing 737 family, as well as considering some other types, including the Embraer 190. Rainey outlined these plans during its last earnings call in October 2014.

United will add two used 737-700s purchased from lessors to its fleet in 2015, he said at the time.

The airline anticipates $3 billion to $3.2 billion in capital expenditures, driven largely by aircraft acquisitions, in 2015, says Rainey today. Deliveries on its balance sheet include the two used 737-700s, 23 737-900ERs and the 11 787-9s, as well as 11 Embraer 175s for its regional fleet.

United only plans to remove 15 aircraft from its mainline fleet, allowing for a net increase of 21 aircraft to 712, in 2015. However, the United Express fleet will shrink by 63 aircraft to 503 during the period.

United plans to remove 18 Bombardier CRJ200s, 15 Bombardier CRJ700s, eight Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s, nine Embraer ERJ-135s, 53 Embraer ERJ-145s and nine Embraer 120 Brasilias from its regional fleet this year. These reductions will be offset by the addition of 49 E175s.

Source: Cirium Dashboard