United Airlines to order Airbus A321neo aircraft as eventual 757 replacements

Last month a story was leaked claiming United Airlines will be placing a major order for narrowbody aircraft early next year. Industry analysts predict it will be for up to 200 aircraft in what would equate to a list price deal of approximately $18 billion. The article also notes Boeing and Airbus will be pitted against each other as is a common theme these days, with American Airlines recently splitting their major aircraft acquisition purchase between the two manufacturers.

Today I attended the United Family Day event in San Francisco (full review forthcoming), but feel compelled to post about my conversation with Captain Andy, an A319/320 pilot. While I was waiting for the airplane pull event – groups of about 25 people who literally pull a rope attached to the nosewheel to tug an A320 a designated distance by sheer manpower – I introduced myself to Captain Andy and had a pleasant chat.

I asked him what he thought about the new “rule” that pilots will be required to allow autopilot handle recovery during windshear or significant wind gusts and he replied, “it’s just a suggestion.” He mentioned A319s are easier to land as they don’t float as much as A320s when very close to touchdown. Then he said, “we’ll be ordering A321neos to eventually replace the 757s and they’ll have greater sized winglets than those seen on the A319/A320s.” WOW! That’s big news and he was certainly confident in revealing it.

So, I suppose you could file this under speculation, but as he’s the Chief Pilot in San Francisco I tend to take his word. I further asked, “Do they have the range and fuel capacity needed to replace the 757?” His answer was “yes” and I asked because I recently posted that US Airways was in discussion with Airbus as they were concerned A321s wouldn’t be able to match 757 performance. United must feel confident and Airbus obviously has come through.

Given this conversation, I think we might hear of a firm purchase announcement from United sooner than the new year. Here are a couple of pictures from today’s event to tide you over until I write up a full review.

Comments

  1. The range issue is something I simply don’t believe. The published numbers do not at all support the claim. The 752 has a 700nm lead on the A321 and nothing I’ve seen suggests that the NEO version is going to get up to the 3700 number. Maybe up around 3500nm, but not to 3700. That’s sufficient to meet the domestic needs, I suppose, but not the international ones. And unless they’re going to cut a bunch of European routes and frequencies that’s a problem.

    Maybe they’ll order some 321s but it doesn’t seem that they can fully replace the 752s in the fleet.

    • I totally agree, which is why I asked. His response was immediate, but he might have been just appeasing me with a quick answer without wanting to get into a detailed discussion. He was forthcoming regarding the rule vs. suggestion on the recent autopilot requirement issue for which the pilots union had sued United (that conversation was longer) and it preceded the A321 remark. I’d have to assume he realized my intimate knowledge of current issues and would have revealed something like, “The A321 can’t handle all the markets we fly with 757s today,” but he didn’t.

  2. Let’s not forget the silo mentality within corporations. He may well, in his own mind, regard the range as sufficient for pre-merger UA and be disregarding the requirements of pre-merger CO. Or maybe the long-term plan is to replace the international CO 757s with 787s.

  3. You’re right that they’re different missions, but I wonder what the fuel burn of a typical 757 with winglets doing trans-Atlantic routes is vs. a 787? I’m not a numbers guy, but if you take the initial acquisition cost out of the equation, what’s the remaining CASM of the 757 vs. 787 for those kinds of stage lengths?

  4. I saw you talking to him. I was sort off in front of him. Either way, that’s interesting that they’re going to buy the 321. But then again, the new “United” is going to bring us new planes. Lol. Read that in Hemisphere.

  5. I feel confident in having talked to him that A321s will be a reality at United. If they indeed have the range to replace 757s is another issue presently, but Boeing certainly hasn’t come to the table with a 757 replacement or even a newer “MAX” version a la the 737.

    I think Airbus is up to the challenge and feel confident we’ll see A321neos with performance stats beyond the current 757s.

  6. At the risk of sounding like the “quintessential disgruntled employee” I have to tell you that the revolving door of our management ranks at UAL (we have gone through countless CP in SFO in the past few years) has left what could only be described as the “bottom of the barrel.” Andy Allen, our not so-esteemed chief pilot in the northwest (SFO and SEA)is quite simply not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I would take anything he said with the proverbial grain of salt.

    • Hi Bob, Thanks for your feedback. His remark about the A321 did take me by surprise given nothing has been announced other than the speculated ~200 narrowbody aircraft purchase in early 2012.

  7. I understand PeterPDX’s comment,however,with rare exceptions (SWA) it could be made for all airlines. Back when we (the pilot group) owned 55% of United stock I was able to meet and question our top management… even though we were making billions at the time (99-00) I knew we were led by knuckleheads. I am still here because I have invested many years…. but I consider it the biggest mistake of my life. I have gone from a complete devoted and loyal employee (who dabbled into management)to one who cares only about flying safely and professionally… but saving gas? helping out by waving the contract even for a single minute…not a chance. I save my loyalty for other ventures where I enjoy being a company loving, kool-aid drinking employee. Apologies for the rant… can’t help it. 🙂

    • Absolutely no need to apologize. I’m really happy you commented here initially to offer a challenge to what Andy told me. Sorry to hear you’re not drinking the kool-aid anymore… I bet it is a strained and complicated relationship between work groups & management.

  8. After years of rumors and then nothing ever materializing (in fact: things were getting worse instead), some of our ua people amaze me by still bying into this same “I heard we’re gonna get…” craze.
    I used to get excited too, I admit, but these days, I will believe it when I see those birds sitting on the ramp in ua colors and I’m about to strap myself into one of them.
    Until then: same old tiresome bla, bla, bla…..

  9. They should replace it with with the 737 max 9s they have the range of the 757 and hold about the same number of passengers ORDER THE 737 MAX9 AND GET OVER IT!!!!!

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