United Airlines is revising its fleet planning for the Boeing 737 MAX 10 in the wake of long delays in the aircraft’s development and the grounding of the airline’s fleet of MAX 9 models, according to airline CEO Scott Kirby.
Kirby told CNBC that in the “best case” the MAX 10 is delayed by five years and that the grounding of the airline’s 737 MAX 9 fleet has led it to reconsider its order for the MAX 10. The airline currently operates 79 of the MAX 9 variant and needs the higher-capacity MAX 10 jets to fill out its narrowbody fleet.
The FAA grounded all U.S.-based MAX 9s after a January 5 incident in which a mid-exit door plug blew out of Alaska Airlines MAX 9 while the aircraft was climbing to altitude after takeoff from Portland, Oregon. The NTSB is still determining what caused the door plug to fail, and it is not clear when United will be able to put its MAX 9s back into service. The airline told investors on January 22 during its Q4/2023 earning call that it expected to see a hit to revenue in the first quarter of 2024 as it cancels flights scheduled to be flown by MAX 9 jets.
“I think the Max 9 grounding is probably the straw that broke the camel’s back for us,” Kirby said during an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box morning show on January 23. “We’re going to at least build a plan that doesn’t have the Max 10 in it.” However, Kirby later clarified his remarks, saying that the airline would not cancel the order but would take it out of its internal plans since it does not expect Boeing to deliver the aircraft on schedule.
Boeing hasn’t responded directly to Kirby’s interview, but Stan Deal, who heads Boeing’s commercial airplane unit, said in a statement that the company is taking action on a comprehensive plan to bring the 737 Max 9 safely back to service and to improve its quality control system.