United Airlines plans to buy at least 100 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets by 2032 as it replaces aging planes with newer, more fuel-efficient models and pursues international growth, the airline announced on Tuesday.
The order, worth tens of billions of dollars at list prices, comes a little more than a year after United said it planned to buy 270 single-aisle planes — the largest purchase of U.S. aircraft in a decade. The airline added a few dozen jets to that order on Tuesday and said it now expected to receive 700 new planes in all by the end of 2032, including an average of two planes per week next year and three planes per week in 2024.
In addition to its firm order for 100 Dreamliners, with deliveries scheduled to begin in 2024, United has the option to buy 100 more.
The airline’s decision is important for Boeing, which only recently resumed deliveries of the twin-aisle Dreamliner after a more than yearlong delay because of quality concerns, including filling paper-thin gaps in the plane’s body. Boeing has also been hindered by supply chain disruptions, inflation and other economic challenges.
United said it chose Boeing over the rival plane maker Airbus because the airline is eager to grow and already has several dozen 787s as well as the pilots trained to fly them. The airline still has an order on the books to receive dozens of Airbus A350s, a 787 competitor, in 2030.
“They’re both great airplanes,” United’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, said on a call with reporters. “But we already have a large installed base of 787s. And in this world where we’re trying to bring on 2,500 pilots a year and grow the airline, introducing a new fleet type slows that down dramatically.”
Single-aisle, or narrow-body, planes are typically used for flights within the United States or to nearby international destinations. The larger twin-aisle, or wide-body, planes best serve heavily trafficked or long-distance routes. The narrow-body 737 Max can carry 170 to 230 passengers, depending on the configuration. The wide-body 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 to more than 330 passengers.
New planes provide many benefits. They can offer an improved customer experience, with cleaner, more streamlined and sometimes more spacious interiors. (United said the 787 is a customer favorite among the aircraft in its fleet.) They can also save airlines money because their designs are more fuel efficient and require less maintenance.
That is the case for the order announced Tuesday. United said it planned to drop 100 Boeing 767 and 777 wide-body planes from its fleet by 2030, resulting in what it said would be a 25 percent decrease in carbon emissions per seat.
“The Boeing team is honored by United’s trust in our family of airplanes to connect people and transport cargo around the world for decades to come,” said Stanley A. Deal, president and chief executive of Boeing’s commercial plane unit.
In the past two years, United has added more than a dozen new international cities to its network. The airline said it now serves 78 international destinations out of Newark Liberty International Airport, more than at any of its other hub airports.
The airline industry was among the first and hardest-hit by the pandemic, with air travel plummeting more than 95 percent in the spring of 2020. Travel has since recovered, led by domestic trips for which narrow-body planes are particularly well suited. Airlines have started to place big aircraft orders to take advantage of that demand and longer-term growth.
In addition to United’s order, Southwest Airlines last year announced plans to buy 100 Boeing 737 Max planes. Delta Air Lines this summer said it planned to buy 100 Max planes, too. In October, Alaska Airlines, the fifth-largest passenger airline in the United States, announced plans to buy 52 Max jets.
United said its order would result in more jobs, too. This year, the airline has hired 15,000 new employees, including flight attendants, maintenance workers, pilots and others. United said it planned to hire a similar number next year, with more than 2,000 new jobs at each of its hub airports in Chicago, San Francisco and Newark.