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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You’re cranking the articles out in rocket speed, Gary. Way to go! Tons of news.

    Scott Kirby is just realizing that his NEXT strategy is toast unless Airbus bails him out.

    And even if Airbus can find enough customers willing to sell back their delivery slots, they will make more because Kirby is willing to pay a premium to keep NEXT alive.

    And, Scott Kirby justified his need to order 100 787s at a time (also topped off) because delivery slots weren’t available.
    And yet Delta just ordered 20 A350-1000s, far more capable and efficient than anything AA and UA fly – and will get their first copies in 2026, just as their current A350-900 order winds down.
    So, no Airbus’ delivery slots are not totally sold out.
    But American is not looking for hundreds of aircraft to be delivered in the next 3-5 years. United is and Kirby will pay a premium for whatever Airbus can find.

    Of course Airbus is knocking itself out to try to sell more A321NEOs to United after Kirby spouted for years that he couldn’t order the jet because AA would get a kickback under AA’s MFN agreement – even though Delta managed to order 250 A321s – split between CEOs and NEOs – before UA got around to ordering the A321.

    AA and Airbus will laugh all the way to the bank.
    Delta will once again add more aircraft in 2023 including adding its used aircraft to service than any other US airline – and be the first to reach 1000 mainline aircraft.

    At least WN has accepted its fate and cut its growth plan based on the reality that they won’t get MAX7s or near as many MAXs as they want.

  2. If Kirby and Minicucci just called Boeing Sr. Mgmt. out as being anti-semitic and too DEI, they would be out by the end of the day…in this day in age…imo, regardless of their other incompetencies.

  3. I wonder how much that clown, Kirby, will end up costing United. Some CEOs make money for their company. I think that Kirby may be the reason for the next bankruptcy of United.

  4. jns,
    Airbus isn’t going to sell any A321s it can sell to United in a short time frame for a discount.
    UA already has 3X – more than $35 billion more on airplanes than DL which has the second largest order book.
    Scott Kirby is ready to push that spending spree even further – all in the name of growth that Kirby is convinced UA needs to fix all of the mismanagement that UA has suffered from.
    WN recognizes it can’t get more planes and is reducing its growth.

    Kirby will do all he can, will come up short, but yes, he will spend more money for the little bit of growth that Airbus can give them.

  5. @Tim, UA will reach 1,000 mainline planes this year, even after taking reduced delivery schedules and retirements into account.

    Original plan was to have 1,088 planes at the end of 2024. They said they received 25 less planes in 2023 than forecasted. They will also receive less in 2024 than forecasted, but still plenty of buffer to pass the 1,000 plane milestone.

  6. Mark,
    DL will reach 1000 mainline aircraft before UA does. DL only has 35 more aircraft to go and some of those will be via reactivated and used aircraft.
    You and UA have long been focused on size.
    DL has said little about size but is going to deliver what UA cannot because of Boeing’s inability to deliver the MAX and because the 787 is simply smaller and less capable than either version of the A350.
    and DL generated more revenue in 2023 and $2 billion more profits.
    You or anyone that thinks that UA can do as much as DL with making less profits while taking on debt as DL reduces its debt simply doesn’t understand business.

  7. “Scott Kirby is just realizing that his NEXT strategy is toast unless Airbus bails him out.”

    Tim Dunn – armchair CEO. Those who can, do. Those who can’t sit in their mothers basement posting to blogs and delude themselves that it’s really them.

  8. With all due respect TO HER -my mother is no longer living

    And your tripe simply reinforces that some of us are willing to speak the truth no matter which way it cuts.

    Scott Kirby and UA went all-in on a massive growth strategy that was heavily dependent on Boeing even though Gary, Robert Isom, and everyone else knows that Boeing has been unable to deliver quality and do it on-time for years. United NEXT was always a high risk strategy.

    AA and DL have diversified fleets and will weather Boeing’s latest crisis far better than any of their US competitors. DL has thrown in a side of MAX 737s about the same size as UA committed to the A321. DL has enough options on Airbus aircraft to cover its Boeing orders. Guess who is having a fit that they can’t receive their airplanes now?

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