Is United Airlines inching closer to buying a 100-seat mainline aircraft?

United Airlines has long hinted at the possibility of adding a
new small narrow-body aircraft to its mainline fleet, a move that
would follow in the footsteps of Delta Air Lines with its Airbus A220s and Boeing 717s.

The Chicago-based carrier may finally be thinking seriously
about adding a so-called “100-seater,” as the family of planes
that includes the A220 and Embraer E-Jet-E2s are known despite
often having more than 100 seats, to its fleet in the next five
years.

“There will be a point when we switch from connectivity to
gauge… that will be a great CASM-ex [unit costs excluding fuel
and special items] tailwind for the company,” said Andrew
Nocella, chief commercial officer of United, at a Cowen investor
conference on Sept. 4.

Nocella was referring to the airline’s nearly two-year old
growth plan focused on boosting domestic connections over,
primarily, its hubs at Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Denver (DEN) and Houston
Intercontinental (IAH). Much of that growth has been achieved by
adding more 50-seat regional
jets
back to the United Express fleet to accelerate growth.

(Photo by Shutterstock)A
United Express CRJ-200. (Photo by Shutterstock)

 

Small regional jets like the Bombardier CRJ200 and Embraer
ERJ-145 are not known for their passenger comfort. They are also
costly for airlines to operate, particularly when fuel prices are
high.

While Nocella did not provide specifics, his comment indicates
that United will be looking to replace those 50-seat jets with
larger models in the next few years. With restrictions on the
number of 76-seat jets that the carrier can have in its regional
fleet expected to remain in place for at least medium term, more
mainline aircraft are the only remaining option.

Enter the 100 seater.

The man who leads United’s domestic network planning team,
Ankit Gupta, called both the A220 and E195-E2 potentially “great
upgauges” from the carrier’s regional fleet of 76-seat Embraer
175s just two days after Nocella’s comment. He was speaking at
the Regional Airline Association’s annual convention in Nashville
on Sept. 6.

Airbus A220-100 (Image by Airbus)The
Airbus A220-300. (Image by Airbus)

 

But – and there always seems to
be a but
when it comes to United and small mainline aircraft
– at large, congested airports where the carrier has its hubs,
like Chicago and San Francisco (SFO), a larger narrow-body plane
will always win out over a smaller one, added Gupta.

Though the argument could be made that United is flying 50- and
76-seat jets to these same airports that make a 100-seater the
obvious winner, to paraphrase Gupta, in terms of gauge.

Another issue that United executives frequently raise is the
cost of adding a new fleet type to its 591-aircraft strong
narrow-body fleet.

“You can’t buy [an aircraft] for just a couple of routes,”
United then-treasurer Gerry Laderman
told FlightGlobal
in 2018. “You should go to the best
aircraft of the aircraft that you’re operating a significant
fleet size of because, in that situation, the cost of complexity
does outweigh the benefit of having the absolute perfect aircraft
for that mission.”

In response to concerns over complexity, Embraer vice-president
of sales and marketing Charlie Hillis said at RAA: “The big
argument at the mainline is the cost of complexity of adding a new
fleet type… [But] from an efficiency standpoint, the A220 is
getting sold and we’re much more efficient than the A220.”

MOSCOW REGION, RUSSIA - AUGUST 26, 2019: An Embraer E195-E2 jet airliner during preparations for the MAKS-2019 International Aviation and Space Salon in the town of Zhukovsky, Moscow Region. Marina Lystseva/TASS (Photo by Marina LystsevaTASS via Getty Images)The
Embraer E195-E2. (Photo by Marina LystsevaTASS via Getty Images)

 

United pilots may hold the key to the possible future of a
100-seater at the airline. Their contract includes a clause that
allows United to add up to 70 more large regional jets to its
feeder fleet – something management
very much wants
– in exchange for 88 new small mainline
narrow-body aircraft.

The clause has been in the agreement between United and its
pilots since 2012 but never enacted.

The bottom line is it remains a question whether United will
ever add A220s or E195-E2s to its mainline fleet. There are
arguments both for and against such a move.

But with United promising to continue to grow its mainline fleet
— and opportunities to buy used Airbus A319s and Boeing 737-700s
limited — a decision will eventually have to be made on the
topic.

Featured image by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News2
Is United Airlines inching closer to buying a 100-seat mainline aircraft?