United Airlines is buying 100 Boeing 787 Dreamliners with the option to purchase 100 more new jets that will fly its longest routes and replace less fuel-efficient, decades-old planes.
The massive order is a big boost for Boeing from one of its largest customers and comes as United has returned to profitability after the pandemic’s travel slump. The carrier has lately added more international flights thanks to a rebound in demand.
United said its order was the largest wide-body sale to a U.S. carrier.
About 100 of the Dreamliners in the order will replace Boeing 767s and some of its Boeing 777s. Chicago-based United’s entire wide-body fleet is made up of Boeing planes. The Dreamliners are expected to be delivered between 2024 and 2032, United said.
United’s CEO Scott Kirby said it was easier to buy more Boeing 787s over rival Airbus’s competing A350 wide-body plane.
“In this world where we’re trying to bring on 2,500 pilots a year and grow the airline, introducing a new fleet type slows that down dramatically,” he said on a call with reporters. “And the truth is the 787 is a better replacement for the  because it’s smaller.”
United had 63 Dreamliners in its fleet as of the end of last year, according to a security filing, and is scheduled to get to nearly 70 before 2023. Like other carriers, United was left without new jets for months when manufacturing flaws forced Boeing to pause deliveries until this past summer.
A shortfall of planes due to supply chain issues and labor shortages has contributed to higher airfare this year.
United first outlined the order to pilots this fall, according to people familiar with the matter.
In a securities filing early Tuesday, the airline estimated its adjusted capital expenditures at around $9 billion next year and $11 billion in 2024 following the order. Executives didn’t say exactly how the airline will pay for the planes.
“We will have the luxury of actually using our own cash flow to pay for these aircraft or finance them to the extent that we find capital markets financing attractive,” United’s CFO Gerry Laderman said on the media call.
The carrier is also purchasing 56 additional Boeing 737 Max narrow-body planes and exercising options for 44 more, adding to an order for close to 300 new Boeing and Airbus single aisle planes United made last year.