April 15, 2024

A traveler looks out a window at a United Airlines plane while waiting for their delayed flight

Waiting, waiting, waiting
Photo: Brandon Bell (Getty Images)

It turns out that one of the many airlines frustrated with Boeing’s continued production delays is channeling those feelings into action. Bloomberg reports that United Airlines is close to signing at least 36 leases for the A321neo, the Airbus model that competes with Boeing’s 737 Max 10.

United did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At a J.P. Morgan conference this week, United CEO Scott Kirby said he was glad was glad that Boeing was taking the time to fix safety and quality issues as it deals with the fallout of a January door plug blowout on an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9. But he also expressed a bit of impatience.

“We are in the market,” for Airbus’s 737 Max rival, he said. “And if we get a deal that the economics work, then we’ll do something.” It looks like the company is going to do something.

Boeing has long struggled to build all its customers’ ordered planes on time. In 2022, Ryanair CEO Mike O’Leary told investors that Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun needed “a boot in his arse” to speed things up.

Flights of fancy

United had really been counting on the next-generation 737 Max planes. During an October earnings call, chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said the airline has “a significant fleet of 777 and 767 that need to retire at some point later this decade.”

When the manufacturer announced United’s 737 Max 10 order in 2017, the company said it would deliver the planes in 2020. It’s now 2024, and the plane hasn’t even been cleared to fly by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Last week, United executives told staff in a memo announcing a pilot hiring freeze that they had no idea if the planes would ever come.

“Those aircraft aren’t even certified yet, and it’s impossible to know when they will arrive,” vice president of flight operations Marc Champion and vice president of flight operations planning and development Kirk Limacher wrote.

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