Boeing 767s Find New Life on United's Newark-Europe Routes

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- United Airlines ( UAL) has apparently not received the memo that says the life of the Boeing ( BA) 767 is coming to an end.

Rather, United is aggressively updating and reallocating its fleet of 767s, which includes both 35 Boeing 767-300ERs from pre-merger United and 16 767-400s from pre-merger Continental.

Last month, United said it would upgrade 11 of the 767-300ER aircraft, investing in winglets, interior modifications and supplemental maintenance. United had already announced plans to make similar investments in 10 other 767-300ERs.

Last week, United said it would put 767s from both fleets to work on four of its Newark-origination, trans-Atlantic routes now operated with narrow-body Boeing 757s. The first transition to a 767 will take place on Wednesday, when Newark-Barcelona becomes a 767 flight.

Subsequently, 757s will be replaced by 767s on Newark-Berlin on June 4 and on Newark-Hamburg and Newark-Madrid on Oct. 25. 

Andy Buchanan, United managing director of international planning, said the carrier has been planning the change ever since the 2010 merger with Continental.

"As we looked at the network and the fleet, we thought early on that getting larger gauge aircraft into Newark to fly to Europe would satisfy customer demand and also improve our financials," Buchanan said. "But our timing was dictated by fleet availability and by the opportunity cost since we were using those aircraft elsewhere."

United planned the change for two primary reasons. First, the 767s will have more premium seats than the 757. "Because of the power of the Newark hub, a larger percentage of the seats are premium seats," Buchanan said. "Especially in London, that's a very important part of the business for us. Moving to a 767-300 from a 757 with 16 in business first to a 767, we nearly double the number of premium cabin seats while economy remains roughly flat."

The United 767s had two configurations, one with six first-class seats and 26 business seats, the other with 30 business-class seats. Eventually they will all have 30 business-class seats, with 184 seats in coach.

Additionally, United and other carriers have recently faced stronger westerly winds as they cross the Atlantic from Europe to the U.S in the winter. As they fought the wind in the winters of 2011, 2012 and 2014, trans-Atlantic United 757s made dozens of fuel stops, typically in Newfoundland. The 767, because it carriers more fuel, would generally be able to avoid fuel stops.

"It's no secret that the (non-stop) reliability of the 757 has deteriorated over time because the winds aloft during the winter are stronger," Buchanan said. "Fuel stops have been in existence forever, but we've seen the trend worsening over the last few years; we're not the only ones taking fuel stops due to stronger winds.

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