Update on the Shaheen Air A319s coming to UA.
Between the Shaheen 319s and the China Southern frames, UA might
be planning to stick with the existing small mainline A/C instead of acquiring a new narrowbody simply to add to the 76-seat fleet. There are probably plenty of current, large RJ markets that could sustain A319/B737 service and in turn lessen the need for more 76-seaters. Flying around with 10-20 empty seats isn't the end of the world when you figure in the cost savings of a simplified fleet over time. (exhibit A - WN)
With UA having so many of their ops at airports that are more prone to IRROPs, having fewer variables for crew manning and A/C scheduling might be beneficial. (exhibit B - WN)
This is my hunch as well. Beyond the Shaheen and China Southern IAE powered A319s, there are 20 CFM powered A319s coming from easyJet in 2020/21. A sub-group of 20 jets with different engines than the other ~175 IAE powered 319/320s does not make sense so I suspect we will see the acquisition of more CFM powered Airbii over the next couple of years.
Ultimately this will all play into the contract renegotiation with the pilots' union, ALPA. The scope relief method offered by the contract to increase 76-seat flying was the addition of a small narrowbody to mainline flying. The economics of it do not make sense, if they did we would have seen the order for A220s or E195s by now.
At the risk of delving this thread off-topic here's some numbers on how a contract amendment might look and a synopsis of where I understand things to sit. Full disclosure, I am not affiliated with UA or ALPA in any way outside of being a frequent UA customer.
Publicly the pilots are holding strong on the current scope clause language (or at least the style of it), however I hope discussions are going on privately about the economics of bringing on a new small narrow body (e.g. A220). Specifically, that the math doesn't make sense for everyone at the same time, it only works for a portion of the parties with at least one party losing. Ultimately the pilots' goal is to grow mainline flying in a profitable way and not let RJ flying takeover.
My hope is that the new scope clause is no longer a fixed number but an elastic one structured along these lines:On or after January 1, 2020 United Express Carriers may operate United Express Flying under the following limitations:
Aircraft with 70-76 seats, provided that such aircraft do not number more than sixty-six (66%) of the number of single aisle aircraft in the Company Fleet.
Aircraft with 50 or fewer seats, provided that such aircraft do not number more than thirty-four percent (34%) of the number of single aisle aircraft in the Company Fleet
As of today with 582 NB aircraft, this would allow for:
384 70-76 seat aircraft (+129 over today's 255)
197 50 seat aircraft (-107 from today's 304)
Percentages would need to be fine-tuned , but a structure like this would force the 76 seat aircraft to be used to reduce the amount of 50 seat flying, support UA's overall growth strategy and encourage growth in mainline. Continued acquisition of used A319 or 73G sized aircraft support this, though WN appears to be absorbing any used 73Gs that come available. IMO, the current contract setup encourages more 50 seat flying which is largely a losing proposition
As a reference point, during FY18, there was a net increase of 51 '50 seat aircraft'. More are on the way during FY19 as CR2's continue to come online with ExpressJet and E-145s are pulled from the desert. Until the contract is amended, we'll continue to see more 50 seat aircraft join the fleet. Ultimately 50-seat flying prove to be a losing proposition for everyone (low crew wages, uncomfortable aircraft, reputation loss, and higher cost once fuel costs rise).