United Airlines will choose between the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 and “contemplate” the A380 when it begins to renew its fleet after emerging from Chapter 11 in February next year.

The US major – which has been in bankruptcy protection for more than three years and was forced to park dozens of its older aircraft in the desert after 9/11 – will return a “stronger company” and make a “modest” net profit next year, says chairman and chief executive Glenn Tilton.

Speaking at a UK Aviation Club lunch last week, Tilton said the “relative youth” of United’s fleet of around 460 aircraft meant it would only launch a renewal programme “when we need to”. The carrier, which has one of the biggest Airbus fleets in the USA, will “compete the A350 against the 787”, said Tilton. “We’ll be talking to Boeing and Airbus at some point, but at no time soon.” The airline will also consider A380s, but “not as a priority”.

Tilton also gave a robust defence of Chapter 11 in response to an attack on the regulation by former British Airways chief executive Sir Rod Eddington at an Aviation Club lunch two months ago. Eddington had claimed that the regulation provided a “safe harbour” for ailing airlines and distorted competition.

Tilton said that, of 166 airline bankruptcy filings in the USA since 1978, only three came out of Chapter 11 as viable businesses. Of the 15 largest US carriers in 1980, only five survived today. This was in contrast to Europe, where 11 of the largest 15 airlines operating 25 years ago were still in business.

Source: Flight International