Dec. 3, 2019, © Leeham News: United Airlines today announced an order for 50 Airbus A321XLRs.
The airplane has an advertised range of 4,700nm (5,400 statute miles), or a nine hour flight.
UAL will replace its aging Boeing 757s on a one-for-one basis beginning in 2024.
The XLR’s targeted entry into service is 2023.
Simultaneously, United deferred its order for the Airbus A350 XWB to 2027. UA repeatedly deferred delivery of the wide-body aircraft, which was ordered in 2009. First delivery was originally scheduled for 2013. There are 14 years from the original delivery date to the new one.
Officials at United are prone to favor Boeing, especially for wide-bodies, over Airbus.
The A350-900 has slightly less capacity but more range than the Boeing 787-10. United is a 787-10 customer.
The A350-1000 has about the same capacity more slightly more range than the Boeing 777-300ER. United is a “bridge” purchaser of the -300ER at a steeply discounted price. United helps Boeing bridge the production between the 777 Classic and the 777X.
United has 45 A350-900s on order.
The XLR order is the first time United turned to Airbus for single-aisle airplanes since its original order in 1992-1993 for A319s and A320s.
Boeing offered the 737-300 and -400, confident that the long-time Boeing customer would not order from Airbus. United asked Boeing to reopen its 737-300 contract and renegotiate the price for the -400, something Boeing refused to do.
Airbus, whose sales force at the time was led by John Leahy, was hungry for the business. By the time Boeing recognized United was prepared to give the deal to Airbus, it was too late.
It was the loss of this order that convinced Boeing to upgrade the 737 into the Next Generation airplane.
The A321XLR serves the lower end of the so-called Middle of the Market, the sector for which Boeing conceived the New Midmarket Airplane (NMA). The XLR carries fewer passengers than the NMA and has slightly less range than promoted for the smaller, 220-passenger NMA-6 (5,000nm).
But an analysis by LNA suggests the A321LR/XLR is complementary to the prospective NMA rather than directly competitive.
Still, replacing United’s 757s with the XLR removes these 50 airplanes from a potential NMA sale. This further stresses the already difficult business case for the NMA.