United CEO says airline will consider alternative to Boeing’s next airplane

A United Airlines 737 MAX 9 approaches to land.
Konstantin von Wedelstaedt (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons
Len Varley - Assistant Editor 3 Min Read
3 Min Read

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has expressed his disappointment in the ongoing manufacturing problems being experienced by major US plane manufacturer Boeing.

The subsequent grounding of Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directly affected the United fleet.

Speaking this week on CNBC, the airline CEO said that United would consider alternatives to a newer version of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the future.

United Airlines 737 MAX 9 groundings

United Airlines is a major operator of the 737 variant at the center of the grounding issue, operating 79 of them in their fleet.

This represents the largest complement of any carrier, with Alaska Airlines being the next major operator of the variant.

Alaska were also intimately affected by the issue, having initially experienced the in-flight separation of an aft cabin door plug assembly during a flight on January 5.

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A service ladder at the aft cabin door recess of Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9. Photo Credit: NTSB

Implications for future procurement

On Tuesday this week, Kirby said on CNBC that United Airlines would consider alternatives to buying a future version of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

Kirby’s observation of the implications for future procurement decisions comes shortly after the disclosure that United now expects to lose money for the first quarter from January to March as a result of the groundings of its Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplanes.

The carrier anticipates that the planes will remain grounded until around 26 January, and its forecasting makes provision for the fact that the aircraft won’t fly at all this month. A significant number of flights were cancelled through January as a result of the mandatory grounding directive.

Kirby previously disclosed that the airline would not be considering cancelling its current open orders with Boeing, however his comments this week suggest that future fleet purchasing decisions would be colored by the current issues.

Whilst the grounding has centred around 171 MAX 9 variants which are equipped with a door plug assembly in the aft cabin recess, the FAA has this week extended recommended inspections to the older Boeing 737-900ER model equipped with a similar door plug design.

Whilst this model is not subject to the more extreme grounding issue which the MAX 9 is subject to, this week’s FAA safety directive calls for 737-900ER operators to carry out visual inspections of the subject door plug assembly.

United Airlines presently has 136 of the older Boeing 737-900ER aircraft in its fleet.

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United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has said that the airline would consider alternatives to a newer version of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the future.
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