FlightGlobal.com reports that United may add a 100-seat mainline aircraft to its fleet.
United’s smallest 737-700 seats 118 people, 42 more than its next biggest plane, the Embraer 175.
In a letter sent to employees last week, Howard Attarian, senior vice-president of flight operations, wrote, “There does seem to be an opportunity and fit for an aircraft with around 100 seats to fill that gap in our network, but on the other hand the problems with the complexity cost for a new fleet type is a big concern.”
This would represent a turnaround in the airline’s strategy. In January, United president Scott Kirby said that 100-seat aircraft “just don’t work” for United because they are not as economically efficient.
It is important to note that Kirby’s statement represented a departure from previous United policy. United had been considering adding a 100-seat aircraft to its mainline fleet since 2014, well before Kirby’s arrival in August 2016.
In early 2016, United ordered 65 Boeing 737-700s. However, last November, they upgauged and converted that order to four 737-800s and 61 737 Max.
United’s competitors, Delta and America, both have 100-seat planes in their fleets. Delta has 91 Boeing 717-200s with 110 seats. America flies 20 Embraer 190s that seat 99 passengers.
Delta used the introduction of the 717 into their fleet to accelerate the addition of larger jets to its regional fleet.
United has a similar option in its pilots agreement. If United were to add a plane like the E190 or Bombardier CSeries 100 to its mainline fleet, it would be able to add 70 more 76-seat jets to its regional fleet.
United has been upgauging all its routes. On its regional routes it has phased out 50-seat planes like the E145 for planes like the E175. On larger regional jet routes it now flies 737s and Airbus A319s. United now even uses some of its Boeing 777s on domestic routes.
United will continue to upgauge. The airline plans to replace its 737-800 and 900ER plans with the 737 Max.