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United has few good alternatives to 737 Max 10

The FAA’s imposed 737 Max production cap at Boeing, combined with the January headaches faced by its new A321neo fleet, layer an additional dynamic on the airline’s choices.

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Release Date
February 19, 2024
United has few good alternatives to Max 10

Ten minutes after takeoff on Jan. 24, United Airlines flight 777 from Chicago O’Hare to Las Vegas suffered an engine failure. The crew of the brand-new Airbus A321neo — an aircraft with only around 70 hours of flight time — was alerted to the problem by a low oil pressure warning for the right-side Pratt & Whitney PW1100G geared turbofan. According to a person familiar with the flight, the crew performed a manual shutdown of the engine and discharged the associated fire bottles before returning to O’Hare and landing safely.

Four days later, United had issues with another one of its newly-delivered A321neos. On Jan. 28, a Pratt engine on an aircraft delivered at the end of December was found in need of removal and replacement after seals in the engine were found to be “worn and completely nested” and bearing bushings were found to have migrated, according to maintenance logs reviewed by The Air Current.

Related: With hundreds ordered, United wonders when its new fleet will arrive

The failures came just as the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the fleet of 737 Max 9s with plug exits to fly again after a three-week grounding following the accident aboard Alaska Airlines 1282. The sidelining of its United’s Max 9 fleet was transient, but the grounding now means uncertain near-term delivery schedules from Boeing and a long-term cloud hanging over the 737 Max 10’s certification, which the airline has now formally removed from its planning.

These headaches for United’s Pratt-powered A321neo fleet underscore the Airbus and Boeing duopoly’s crunch. Simultaneously, they also present an opportunity for GE Aerospace and Safran to win more business at United, given the lack of options available to the airline as it tries to execute on a business plan underpinned by larger gauge aircraft amid an FAA cap on Max production, the absence of the largest member of the Max family, and the operational and durability constraints that Pratt engine users face.

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