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An A321XLR mockup (Photo: Airbus)

United Orders 50 Airbus A321XLRs, Defers A350 Deliveries

A decision from United was expected in relation to the replacement of the airline’s aging Boeing 757 fleet that still operates in the coveted North Atlantic route segment among others. And that decision finally arrived on Tuesday; the carrier announced that starting in 2024, it will incorporate 50 Airbus A321XLR aircraft into its fleet.

The company issued a statement that presents the decision as a “course to the future,” as well as a step that will allow the airline to explore new European routes opportunities from its hubs in Newark and Washington.

A mockup of United’s A321XLR (Photo: United)

The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network,” said Andrew Nocella, United’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer in a press release. “In addition to strengthening our ability to fly more efficiently, the A321XLR’s range capabilities open potential new destinations to further develop our route network and provide customers with more options to travel the globe,” he concluded.

The A321XLR is the top contender in the Europe-U.S. bridge, as its extended range allows operators to consider a large number of city pairs with a cost efficiency that is currently unmatched. The low cost per seat is a key factor for the A321XLR to come into play on United’s transatlantic offering. Also, the few operators that were able to fly point-to-point routes with the Boeing 737 MAX are facing a tough choice while the aircraft is still grounded: to wait for it and resume service with its proven economic efficiency or to rethink the strategy now and consider other options.

On the downside, United’s decision to postpone — again — the delivery of 45 Airbus A350XWBs may confirm that the new capabilities of narrowbodies are threatening widebodies in segments that were almost exclusively operated by twin-aisles 15 years ago. It seems that the efficiency of the A321neo/A330neo combo in the middle-of-the-market segment will cover needs that were reserved for bigger, more expensive aircraft. The struggle of both builders to get new widebody orders is showing that the industry is abandoning the hub-and-spoke model to adopt a more point-to-point network.

Also, the A321neo’s success, especially in the long-range variants, is rapidly closing the opportunity window for Boeing’s NMA. If the industry is selecting the A321 to replace the 757, it is only a matter of time until 767 operators would need to start looking for alternatives. If a 797 is not on the shelf fast for operators to evaluate and order, it may lose the chance of ever existing.

Pablo Diaz
Pablo Diaz
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