United Airlines is planning a record expansion of its aircraft fleet.

The carrier is ordering 270 single-aisle planes from Boeing and Airbus, signaling confidence in the resurgence of air travel.


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United Airlines is planning a record expansion of its aircraft fleet.

Credit…Chris Helgren/Reuters

June 29, 2021, 6:00 a.m. ET

United Airlines announced Tuesday that it was ordering 270 single-aisle planes from Boeing and Airbus, the biggest aircraft purchase in United’s history and the largest in the United States in a decade. The deal will drive an expansion of United’s fleet, in both the number and the size of its planes.

“It’s about building an airline that can compete with anyone,” Andrew Nocella, the airline’s chief commercial officer, said in a call with reporters.

Boeing will supply 200 of the planes, all versions of the 737 Max, its leading commercial aircraft. Of those, 150 will be 737 Max 10s, and 50 will be smaller Max 8s. Airbus will provide the remaining 70 planes, all from the A321neo line.

United took its first delivery of a Max 8 on Monday and expects to receive the first of the other two planes in 2023. The airline currently has just over 800 planes in its fleet.

United declined to say how much it was paying for the planes, but such large orders are typically deeply discounted. The order is good news for Boeing, which is trying to recover from the nearly two-year global ban on the Max after two fatal crashes. Since global regulators began lifting their bans on the plane late last year, Boeing has rushed to deliver the planes and book new orders.

Combined with existing orders, United expects to add more than 500 planes to its fleet in the coming years, including 40 in 2022 and 138 in 2023. The airline also plans a huge retrofit project in which it will upgrade its existing single-aisle planes to match the interiors of the new planes. About 300 of the new planes will replace smaller jets, while 200 will be used to expand United’s fleet.

Airlines in the United States are experiencing a strong summer rebound in travel. On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2.2 million people at airport security checkpoints, the most since the pandemic began 16 months ago. United on Monday also said it expected to earn a pretax profit in July, its first since January 2020.

The airline played up the purchase as a transformational investment, which it calls “United Next.” By 2026, the expansion will increase the number of seats per United flight in North America by nearly 30 percent and increase the number of premium seats available per flight by 75 percent, the airline said. It will also allow United to replace older, more-polluting planes, improving overall fuel efficiency by 11 percent, the airline said.

To support the new planes and the service they will provide, United expects to add 25,000 jobs nationwide, including up to 5,000 in Newark and 4,000 in San Francisco.

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