United Airlines Turns To Lessors For Quick (?) A321neo Deliveries

By Spyros Georgilidakis | March 15, 2024

News reports indicate that United Airlines is nearing a deal to get A321neo narrowbodies from lessors. But will their numbers be enough?

We have seen that Boeing’s latest problems with the 737 MAX have impacted United Airlines significantly. United doesn’t just operate the 737 MAX-9, it is also a launch customer for the even bigger 737 MAX-10.

Image: Boeing

The airline was expecting its first MAX-10s to enter service sometime in 2020. By the time 2020 actually came, 2023 was an optimistic delivery target for the new type. Until recently, Boeing still hoped to certify the 737 MAX-10 before the end of this year, after the MAX-7.

With added FAA scrutiny and no waiver for an engine de-ice system modification on the horizon, the certification of the two remaining 737 MAX variants is now up in the air. United already has orders for the A321neo from Airbus, but the airline is now looking for more of them, as an alternative to the MAX-10.

Photo: Airbus

How Many A321neo Narrowbodies Can Lessors Offer to United?

This is very likely because Airbus doesn’t have delivery slots for the A321neo before the end of the decade. Lessors with existing A321neo orders, not reserved by airline customers, could offer the aircraft to United.

United Airlines Turns To Lessors For Quick (?) A321neo Deliveries
United has already taken delivery of its first Airbus A321neo from a previous order to Airbus itself. Photo: Airbus

However, United has indicated that it is not prepared to overpay for A321neo deliveries from lessors. And price could be a sticking point, because getting large numbers of jets from lessors, even if they are available, doesn’t necessarily secure the kind of discounts that airlines get from manufacturers.

The news is that United is in talks for approximately “three dozen” A321neo aircraft with lessors. It is not clear if Airbus itself is working to promote this deal, in the hope of securing longer-term, direct orders from the airline.

United Airlines Turns To Lessors For Quick (?) A321neo Deliveries
Photo: Airbus

The problem is that multiple factors in previous years have created an aircraft shortage, putting lessor-owned fleets in high demand worldwide. Besides slow aircraft production during the pandemic, we’ve had the 737 MAX groundings, early retirements of older jets, 737 airframe production issues, and Pratt & Whitney’s unscheduled GTF engine checks.

We will have to wait to see what terms United Airlines and the lessors come to, for their A321neo deal. It’s unlikely that much of these terms will be public, but a parallel announcement for a direct Airbus order, or any other level of involvement by the manufacturer, will be interesting.


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