( UAUA) on Tuesday said it will take delivery of 50 next-generation, wide-body jets from
The order taps both of the world's principal aircraft makers, who will each provide 25 of their newest aircraft models, the Airbus A350XWB and the Boeing 787. So far, development of both aircraft has been plagued with delays, but United will not take its first delivery until 2016. The
Boeing and Airbus orders
were first reported by
Deliveries are slated between 2013 and 2016. United also secured future purchase rights for 50 more aircraft, 25 of each type.
United said it took advantage of a down cycle in the aircraft industry to secure favorable financing. List price is $6 billion for the Airbus order and $4 billion for the Boeing order, but discounts of 25% are common on large aircraft orders. CFO Kathryn Mikells said United placed "an opportunistic order at the bottom of the business cycle -- we got the right aircraft and we got the right deal."
United also has the right to substitute other aircraft, defer deliveries and access backstop financing from the manufacturers. The carrier's near-term expense, before deliveries begin, is limited to $152 million over the next five years.
Another benefit for United is increased fuel efficiency. The new aircraft are 33% more efficient then the 747s and 767s they replace. At current fuel prices, if the 50 aircraft were flying today, United would save $400 million in fuel costs annually, Mikells said. Maintenance costs are about 40% lower, not including the impact of the need for limited maintenance in the first few years of operation.
President John Tague said the airline had no interest in bigger airplanes like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747.
"Our view on capacity discipline is well-known," he said. "Our objective is to optimize the company's performance in the down cycles, not to capture every last dollar of opportunity that an extremely large aircraft might create." The new planes will have 19% fewer seats than the planes they replace.
Additionally, the planes have more range, enabling the carrier to access more non-stop international destinations. The 787 has 32% more range than the 767 and 11% more range than the 747. While Tague declined to name potential international destinations United might serve, the 787 is frequently mentioned as an aircraft that will enable non-stop service between the U.S. and a wide variety of cities in China. United is the largest U.S. carrier in the Pacific and currently operates about 90 international widebody aircraft.
United became the last of the major U.S. airlines to place an order for one of the new composite airplanes.
have ordered A350s, while
have ordered the 787. American's order is contingent on the carrier reaching a deal with its pilots to fly the aircraft.
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.