United is adding to its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners built in North Charleston, S.C. | Credit: Provided.

Even better: It has options to buy 100 more

Updated 10:36 a.m. | United Airlines this morning announced it will buy 100 Boeing 787 Dreamliners — all of which are built in North Charleston — in a fleet modernization deal that will stretch to 2032. And to make the news even sweeter for thousands of local workers, United says it has options to buy 100 more of the jets.

Here’s the magnitude of the transaction: The company will spend at least $20 billion over the next two years on part of the order for jets made locally. 

“What better endorsement of North Charleston and its workforce than with United Airlines completing the largest purchase of widebody jets in commercial aviation history, all to be manufactured in our city,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said today. “In North Charleston, we build innovative jets, and we are mighty proud of it.”

Top United officials wouldn’t reveal the total value of the package, but Boeing workers are likely to be all smiles in North Charleston today when the two companies formally make the historic announcement.  

United executives said the deal was the largest widebody jet order by a U.S. carrier in commercial aviation history. The jets will be a backbone of the company’s strategy to maintain and expand its position as the nation’s top international carrier to European and Pacific destinations.

“Everything at United — despite all of the challenges around the world — feels like it’s hitting on all cylinders,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a Monday evening conference call with reporters.

United’s senior executives gushed at the capabilities of the 787, which comes in three sizes. And that flexibility, along with the fuel efficiency of the jet, is what makes it attractive for long-term plans.

“These aircraft will unlock our potential more than ever,” said Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer. “The 787 is an amazing jet.”

The company’s initial order of 100 Boeing 787s will replace all of United’s older Boeing 767s and some of its 777 fleet. If the company exercises its option to buy up to 100 more 787s, “think about those as opportunities as we are able to expand our international franchise,” said United Chief Financial Officer Gerry Laderman.

According to a news release, the company is expected to purchase about 700 new narrow and widebody aircraft like the 787 by the end of 2032.  hat means the company will get an average of two new jets every week next year and more than three every week in 2024.

More about the Boeing 787

The Dreamliner is a preferred commercial jet because of its flexibility. The smaller model can make transcontinental flights, while the medium-sized 787-9 model is good for long-range flights. The largest model seats up to 300 passengers and can fly long core flights to Japan and Europe, United officials said Monday.

Furthermore, the Dreamliner offers leading-edge fuel efficiency, which United said should help it cut carbon emissions by 25% per seat compared to the existing fleet. 

Kirby said today’s announcement reflects how the company is accelerating its plan “to connect more people to more places around the globe and deliver the best experience in the sky.”

In United’s statement, Boeing President and CEO Stan Deal is quoted as saying, “The Boeing team is honored by United’s trust in our family of airplanes to connect people and transport cargo around the world for decades to come.”

More international travel

A key component of United’s long-term strategy is a bet that international travel will increase from the United States. According to the company, it has added 13 new international destinations and 40 new international routes in the last two years. Its hubs serve scores of destinations. For example, Newark Liberty International Airport now serves 78 international destinations, George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston serves 56 and Washington Dulles International Airport serves 41.

Also of note: United will fly nonstop to 37 cities in Europe, Africa, India and the Middle East by next summer. It will also serve 20 transpacific routes at the beginning of 2023, the company said.

Also announced as part of the deal with Boeing was purchase of 44 of Boeing’s 737 MAX jets and an option to buy 56 more.

This story is developing. More will be added throughout the day.

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