UNITED AIRLINES (UAL) is in final negotiations with Boeing for up to 35 aircraft ranging from 757s to 747s and worth around $3 billion. The carrier is also about to open negotiations for the purchase of 30 smaller aircraft.

The airline originally hoped to have the Boeing deal secured by the end of May, but company sources say that a formal announcement is now expected next month.

The bulk of the order is for 15 777s, although this could rise to 17, if the two 767-300s included in the original negotiations "fall out", say sources.

If the 777 purchase rises to 17, United's planned commitment to the type will increase to a total of 85. The bulk of the new 777 orders is also expected to be for the stretched -300, as are several of the airline's 34 convertible options.

The order is also expected to include up to 13 747-400s, which will account for more than half the total value of the deal. United operates 24 747-400s and urgently requires additional -400 capacity on long-haul transpacific routes. The deal also includes two 767-300s and five 757s. Pratt & Whitney engines power the airline's existing fleet of these types.

At least seven of the 35 are believed to be aircraft which were deferred from earlier orders, while 25 are described as "incremental". United originally deferred delivery of 122 aircraft in February 1992 and agreed with Boeing to "restructure" delivery of 49 the following year. The three-year-old accord reclassified the carrier's 49 firm orders for 737s, 757s and 767s into "purchase options". Under the terms of the agreement, United faced the forfeit of "significant deposits" if it did not take delivery of these aircraft before 2000.

With the widebody deal virtually out of the way, United is expected to move swiftly to order up to 30 smaller aircraft. It operates Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s and both manufacturers will be invited to bid.

Source: Flight International