United Airlines is close to placing its first aircraft order in more than a decade and has narrowed its search to two groundbreaking airplanes: Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner or Airbus’ counterpart, the A350-XWB, sources told the Chicago Tribune.
United is being furiously courted by both Chicago-based Boeing Co. and France-based Airbus SAS, sources said, even though the carrier’s finances appeared shaky just months ago.
Winning United’s business is important to both plane-makers, analysts said. Aside from US Airways, Airbus has yet to land a major U.S. airline customer for the A350, a largely composite jet that is due to enter the market in about five years.
With a United order, Boeing stands to gain a publicity boost. It has garnered only 13 Dreamliner orders this year, along with 83 cancellations for the jet, which is more than two years behind schedule. A victory also would spare the aerospace giant the embarrassment of losing a longtime customer based just blocks from Boeing’s corporate headquarters.
“The question: How aggressive is Boeing willing to be from either the prestige or embarrassment perspective?” said Scott Hamilton, an industry consultant.
By year’s end, United plans to place a firm order for 25 long-range jets worth upward of $5 billion at list price, said people familiar with its plans. United also wants options for 75 additional wide-body planes that could be converted to orders at a later date.
United intends to hold a separate competition for narrow-body planes next year. Combined, the two contests could add about 150 planes to the carrier’s fleet over the next decade.
A United spokeswoman confirmed that the carrier had decided to split its jet purchases but wouldn’t address other aspects of its plans. She downplayed a rumor sweeping aviation circles that a deal was imminent.
“We are not working toward a specific time frame,” said Jean Medina, the United spokeswoman. “We are working toward getting the right deal for the company.”
After sitting on the sidelines while other U.S. carriers placed orders in recent years, United is taking advantage of a buyer’s market for jetliners.
United, the nation’s third-largest carrier, made it clear that it expected manufacturers to provide advantageous pricing and to help finance the purchase when the airline issued a request for proposal in June. While some in aircraft financing circles scoffed at its approach, United appears likely to get its way.