Airbus’ Stealth Move: Eyeing United’s Boeing 737 MAX 10 Order in High-Stakes Aviation Coup
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby called around trying to pressure for a leadership change at Boeing. During the airline’s fourth quarter earnings call, he indicated that the airline was planning for its fleet without Boeing 737 MAX 10 planes.
After the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 9, following an incident with an Alaska Airlines aircraft that lost a door plug inflight and rapidly depressurized, the ability of the airframe manufacturer to delivery quality products – and meet committed deadlines – has been more open to question. Already deliveries have slipped, but that’s an issue for Airbus with new aircraft variants as well.
Boeing 737 Factory Assembly
United placed an order for 200 Boeing 737 MAXs in the summer of 2021. 150 of those for the new, larger 737 MAX 10 which isn’t yet flying. Then United – the launch customer for the MAX 10 – ordered more at the end of 2022.
With United reconsidering its fleet plans, Airbus is trying to figure out how to snatch the order.
- The problem is that the Airbus order book for narrowbody planes stretches out for years. They have too many commitments and can’t just deliver A321s if United is willing to buy them.
- So Airbus is reaching out to current customers trying to buy back their delivery slots in order to offer them to United.
The European planemaker has inquired with jet leasing firms and airlines, proposing to buy back slots for Airbus’s popular A321neo single-aisle jet where it can over coming years, people familiar with the discussions said. United, for its part, is also exploring how it could potentially get out of its agreement with Boeing for hundreds of the long-delayed 737 Max 10 aircraft…Airbus would have to pay a premium to reclaim any sold-out A321neo jets, and securing enough planes in a severely tight market would be a complicated undertaking, meaning that any displacement of Boeing’s order would be a tough act to pull off.
United Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9, credit: United
I was first to report over the summer that American Airlines was looking at a narrowbody aircraft order, likely for deliveries after 2027.
At the time I reported that American’s CEO Robert Isom wasn’t concerned with the backed up order books of Boeing and Airbus. With all of the orders that other airlines have placed, there’s notionally no room in delivery schedules for airlines to buy more planes for years. But he suggested that Boeing or Airbus would make room for their orders because they’re the world’s largest airline and in a position to take delivery and pay for the planes.
It appears we’re seeing this theory in action – for United. If Boeing wants to keep its MAX 10 launch customer, with deliveries delayed and confidence in its customer shaken, they’re going to have to discount the planes even further than what they had to have done during the pandemic before travel had recovered.