Airbus believes that the proposed US airline "mega-merger" will have no impact on its competitiveness during the campaign to replace United Airlines' huge Boeing 757 fleet, despite Continental's traditional favouritism for the US airframer's products.

However, a US investment bank has indicated that United's existing Airbus orders could become casualties of the planned tie-up.

Airbus's chief operating officer customers John Leahy says the airframer's prospects in the sales battle are good, despite Continental's close ties to Seattle - it had previously agreed a "20-year exclusivity deal" with Boeing.

"Any time an airline makes a major change it re-evaluates all the traditional fleet planning assumptions. This merger changes the game, even if Continental has traditionally bought Boeing. They are now going to look for the best airplane," Leahy says.

However, he thinks the merger could push back the timing of United's decision, which had been expected this year. "Every time you get a mega-consolidation you tend to have more aircraft than you need, so any of that refleeting might get delayed a bit."

The merged airline would have combined 50 Boeing 787s and 25 A350s on order - the latter being the legacy of a split deal United agreed last year for Dreamliners and XWBs.

However, Wells Fargo senior analyst Sam Pearlstein thinks the merger could threaten the Airbus widebody contract. "Although management has said it was committed to United's A350 orders, with these deliveries more than five years away, it would not be surprising if there were adjustments," he writes in a research note.

"We believe that United's A350 backlog is unclear as it would add one more airplane type to the combined airline."

Pearlstein also notes that while Airbus list United with a firm backlog of 42 A320s, United's "10-K" financial report says it has "the right to buy" these aircraft, but they are not legally binding purchase orders. "From this language we assume United is far from committed to these aircraft; given the merger with Continental, we would think these airplanes may not be taken," he says.

Source: Flight International