I find the question of UA
looking at A340s to be a little puzzling. I can see someone looking at it as an option as part of an overall analysis of potential fleet restructuring, but I don't see UA
acquiring A340s. Here's why (opinion only):
is heavily invested in Boeing aircraft, especially long haul. As the launch customer for the 777, UA
spent an enormous amount of resources to develop that aircraft, along with Boeing. The 777 is a very versatile aircraft which can fly virtually anywhere UA
flies now with the 747-400.
would not go for the A346 for the same reason they did not consider the 777-300: Facilities. The airports to which they operate and the gate positioning they have cannot support an aircraft longer than a 747-400 without major reworking of those facilities. The cost of that, especially in UAs current financial situation, makes no sense whatsoever. The cost recovery alone would kill any profitability for the next several years.
3. I do agree that there is a problem with the 747-400 product. It is far behind competitors in all cabins and, on long haul services, one of the worst configured Economy Class cabins of any airline in the world. The cost of refitting the aircraft with the new seating products would be cost prohibitive, when they have aircraft now that are configured with a reasonable Economy product and that can be modified to be competitive with other Premium products with a change in the Business cabin.
4. The cost of spares, parts and training for A340 pilots would be extremely high. Given the current situation, UA
would have to retrain pilots to fly the A340. The best flight officers for this switch would be those who are qualified on the A320. However, larger aircraft tend to go to the more senior pilots, and most of the UA
international flight officers are trained on the 747/777/767 only.
5. Finally, if we are looking at fleet rationalization, it makes no sense whatsoever to introduce another aircraft type into the fleet. The better short term answer for UA
is to park the 747-400s, use the 777s for long haul international, the 767 for medium haul international and the ps 757s for opportunity markets which can be flown within seven hours of UAs hubs. UAs pilot costs would be reduced, since pilot costs are predicated on aircraft weight and the lower weight 777 requires less salary dollars to be paid. Granted, it carries about 100 less passengers than the 747; however, I think that there are very few routes and time periods where a 747 is so overbooked as to leave people behind and in the cases that it does, then a second aircraft can be put on the run. This actually enhances the schedule product while keeping roughly the same number of seats in the market.
I have said before that UA
needs to reduce to the following aircraft types:
777/767/757 and A319/A320. The 777/767 on long haul, 757s on opportunity markets or high density domestic markets, the A319/A320 on all domestic routes and some international routes (Central America/Mexico), in which a two cabin small aircraft makes better sense than a large one.
I recognize the problem that this will create for United with the large number of 737s it has in its fleet. However, this process will have to be done over time and as one 737 is removed from the fleet, an A319/20 is added until the fleet change over is complete.
A final thought: Some of you may be wondering, why Airbus for domestic? Won't the 737 do what the Airbus can? Short answer: NO. The 737s that UA
possesses are not NG
aircraft. Their max range is about 1800 miles (Chicago to West Coast). The A319/320 has the capacity to carry the same number of passengers transcon. This provides greater flexibility as the same aircraft can be used for short haul missions as well as medium haul and long haul domestic services without radical shifts in economics. The key is getting to one aircraft family domestic. Once this happens, then United would have a great deal of commonality, the passenger will have a more comfortable aircraft (a six inch wider cabin makes a big difference) and United will have greater efficiency.
If United is intending to fly to new destinations, then it needs to have the right aircraft to be able to fly the route and have it to be small enough to realize profitability within a shorter time frame. United will need this greater efficiency in any market it operates. This will give them a good start.
I would tend to trust more in route expansion rumors more than aircraft.
David L. Lamb, fmr Area Mgr Alitalia SFO 1998-2002, fmr Regional Analyst SFO-UAL 1992-1998