United Airlines eyes more Airbus A321neo jets amid Boeing woes

United Airlines is looking to buy more A321neo jets from Airbus to replace the delayed Boeing 737 MAX 10, in a possible swap that could break the impasse over a long-overdue order for bigger planes, industry sources said. United CEO Scott Kirby visited Toulouse recently to check out the planemaker's offer for a potential give-and-take deal after a mid-flight incident on an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 cast new shadows over the certification of the already late MAX 10, they said. 


United Airlines has been exploring other options with Airbus instead of the MAX 10 order. "As far as I know, no deal has been reached," a person close to the talks said. The talks are preliminary and there is no certainty of a deal, the sources said. Airbus and United Airlines did not respond to requests for comment. Kirby's undisclosed trip to Toulouse is the latest development in a growing crisis for Boeing as the planemaker tries to restore confidence among the public and regulators about its production quality and safety while keeping key orders intact. Kirby last week said the MAX 9's partial grounding was "the last straw" after certification delays to the MAX 10, the biggest member of a jet family marred by an earlier safety crisis caused by two deadly crashes.


United has not scrapped any of the 277 MAX 10 jets it has ordered, but it has taken them off its internal plans, Kirby told reporters last week, leaving doubts over how it would fill the gap at a time when rival Airbus is fully booked. Bloomberg News on Friday said that Airbus was looking to reclaim A321neo slots from the jet market in order to be able to make an offer if there was an opportunity. Industry publication Air Insight said Airbus and United were in discussions.

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Any agreement between United and Airbus would hinge on the limited availability of the A321neo, which is the most sought-after jet in its class, and the status of United's contract with Boeing, which is expected to be the subject of fierce negotiations. Kirby said last week United had not canceled MAX 10s but added: "Boeing is not going to be able to deliver on their contractual obligations on at least many of those planes and that's all I'll say." Hints of a possible Airbus deal have caused "worry" at Boeing, a senior industry source said. However, the planemaker is unable to provide the clarity that United and others need over the MAX 10 because of uncertainties over the certification timeline. Boeing, which has vowed to fix quality issues that may have led to a door plug falling off a MAX 9 and resulted in the partial grounding, did not comment on commercial talks. Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal said in a letter to staff on Friday he was "deeply apologetic for the major disruption and annoyance for our customers". United restarted MAX 9 flights on Saturday.

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