Sunday, August 01, 2021

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United Airlines bets on a pandemic recovery with order that includes 200 Boeing Max jets


United Airlines announced a deal Tuesday for its largest airplane order amid a continuing rebound in air travel: 270 new aircraft, including 200 Boeing 737 Max jets and 70 A321neos built by Airbus.

The order is a boost for Boeing's 737 Max aircraft and the largest since the Federal Aviation Administration certified they were safe after they were grounded following fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. At the end of March, Southwest Airlines announced it would order 100 Max jets.

With its latest order, United expects to add more than 500 new aircraft to its fleet in the coming years, with 40 expected to arrive in 2022; 138 in 2023 and as many as 350 in 2024. While airlines have struggled during the pandemic, passenger counts have risen significantly in recent weeks as coronavirus caseloads fall and Americans spend more time traveling.

United CEO Scott Kirby said terms of Tuesday's deal are confidential, but noted the airline paid less than the list price. Reuters reported that such a deal would be worth $33 billion using the most recent published list prices. United said the 270 new planes, when acquired, have the potential to create 25,000 new jobs, including as many as 5,000 at the airline's hub in Newark and up to 3,000 at Dulles International Airport.

The company said the planes are part of its push, dubbed United Next, to provide updated interiors, seat-back entertainment, faster WiFi, larger overhead bins and more premium seats for customers willing to pay extra for more space. Existing narrow-body jets in United's fleet will be retrofitted with the same amenities.

United, like other U.S. carriers, is struggling to recover from the global pandemic, which brought travel around the world to a virtual standstill as countries closed borders and imposed strict quarantines.

Airlines are seeing welcome signs among domestic travelers. In recent months as the number of vaccinated people has grown, so has the number of people traveling. On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration said it screened 2,167,380 people, the most since the pandemic began.

Still, international travel continues to lag. As countries in Europe have opened to Americans who are fully vaccinated, the United States has a ban in place on travelers from many European nations, as well as Brazil, China and India. The Biden administration recently announced it would form working groups to focus on how to reopen more international travel.

Tuesday's announcement comes as United has begun to shift its focus on air travel in post-pandemic times.

Earlier this month, United announced a deal to buy 15 supersonic jets from Denver-based Boom Supersonic, with the option of purchasing an additional 35 aircraft. United did not disclose the financial terms, but Boom officials said the Overture aircraft is priced at $200 million, which would make the deal worth $3 billion.

In February, the carrier reached an agreement to work with Archer Aviation to develop electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that could be used as short-haul "air taxis" in urban areas. As part of the agreement, United, along with Mesa Airlines, would acquire up to 200 of the battery-powered aircraft when they meet airline standards.

Published : June 30, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Lori Aratani