A380 does not work for United: CFO

United Airlines chief financial officer John Rainey says the Airbus A380 “doesn’t really work” for the airline’s network, driving its preference for smaller widebodies like the Boeing 787.

“We’ve looked at that and we are looking at it right now [but] it just doesn’t really work for us,” he says on the European superjumbo in an exclusive interview with Flightglobal in Chicago today.

 

Rainey cites a higher trip cost for the A380 compared to smaller widebodies like the 787 despite comparable per seat costs as the main challenge to adding the type to United’s fleet.

Airbus is eager to land new customers for the A380, whose operators include many of the world’s blue chip airlines but none in the Americas. In addition, Emirates Airline represents more than 50% of the 155 outstanding firm orders for the aircraft with no new customers joining the programme since Transaero ordered four in 2012, the Ascend Fleets database shows.

In addition to seeking new customers, the European airframer is now dealing with placing two “white-tail” aircraft that were bound for Japanese carrier Skymark before it cancelled its order for six in 2014.

Those aircraft are unlikely to land at United.

“[Instead of] one flight a day and fill up an A380, we’d rather serve [a market] with a couple widebodies if the demand was there because business passengers certainly like that,” says Rainey, citing London Heathrow as a market where frequency is king on routes to the USA.

United has also focused on serving primary and secondary cities abroad with nonstops from its US hubs, for example to places like Chengdu in China or Newcastle in the UK, instead of aggregating all of the traffic over a partner's hub. It also serves primary cities like Hong Kong and Tokyo with multiple frequencies from the USA.

The carrier has ordered 55 787s, including 18 -8s and -9s already in its fleet and 37 outstanding orders for the -9 and -10, that allow it to serve more cities abroad nonstop as well as beef up frequency in key markets.

Rainey says that the 787 is key to United’s network strategy in Asia, especially to China.

In addition to the 37 787s that the airline has on order, it also has firm orders for 35 Airbus A350-1000s with deliveries from 2018 and for 10 Boeing 777-300ERs with deliveries from late 2016, Ascend shows.

This outstanding widebody orders will allow United to replace the 23 ageing Boeing 747-400s in its fleet as well as some older smaller widebodies.