Two airlines, FedEx (FDX) Express and United (UAL) , are renewing their commitments to the aircraft, which was introduced in 1982. Last week, FedEx ordered 50 767-300F freighters. Meanwhile, United said that next month it will begin conversion of its 21 three-class Boeing 767s to two-class.
On its Web site, industry consultant Air Insight noted on July 22 that "in about five weeks time the 767 program will be 33 years old. Yet the program just got its biggest order to date. FedEx ordered 50 and 50 options.
"The FedEx order is a strong vote of confidence," the publication said. "It certainly looked like the aircraft was past its prime. This order is truly old airplane revenge."
United, in an internal publication for technical operations employees, said last week that the modifications it will make to its 767s "include many behind-the-scenes but vitally important improvements that should extend the life of the fleet by years and improve reliability."
In an interview, Brian Znotins, United's vice president of network, said refurbishing 767s makes sense because of the low cost basis and the high consumer satisfaction level.
It can be better to use an older, paid-for airplane than a newer one that is more fuel-efficient. "We plan long-term fleet at $3 fuel," Znotins said. (In the second quarter, United's mainline average fuel price was $2.12 a gallon).
"With the low ownership of airplanes already in the house, they are pretty competitive with next generation airplanes, and you don't want to pay for more than you need," he said. "Why pay for an 8,000-mile (range) airplane if you only need a 6,000-mile airplane?"
Recently, United has been increasing its 767 use on trans-Atlantic routes, freeing 757s for use on trans-continental routes. "We were going to retire the 767s and use 777s on the Atlantic, but in the last few years we have watched the demand level on the Atlantic and it hasn't grown," he said.