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United CEO wants to see an end of the jetliner duopoly

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby says that it’s time for there to be a third choice for the world’s airlines to purchase large jetliners alongside Boeing and Airbus and the U.S. carrier is beginning to ponder how to hasten the arrival of a new competitor.

This, and other topics, were discussed during a wide-ranging interview on The Air Show podcast (Apple | Spotify), which is co-hosted by The Air Current’s Editor-in-chief, Jon Ostrower, The Airline Observer’s Brian Sumers and Cranky Flier author Brett Snyder. UPDATE: The complete episode is now available.

“I think we need more competition in the aerospace business,” said Kirby, during the taping in Dubai at the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting. “Two aircraft manufacturers, three engine manufacturers, typically only one engine manufacturer per airplane. We need some competition.”

Related: United has few good alternatives to 737 Max 10

Does United need to purchase a large number of airplanes to cultivate a new entrant to challenge Boeing and Airbus? “You know, maybe. Maybe not,” said Kirby, whose airline currently has 713 aircraft on order, according to ch-aviation. “But we’ve just started thinking about that. So we don’t have the answers yet, is the real thing to say, other than to say the first way to solve the problem is to define the problem and to admit there is a problem.

“And internally, we’re pretty clear with ourselves that we need to try and figure out a way to have more competition in the aerospace supplier [sector],” said Kirby. United has backed other new entrants, though none that compete with Boeing and Airbus in the core of United’s operations. The carrier has a variety of tentative agreements with nascent players such as Archer Aviation on eVTOLs, Heart Aerospace on a 30-seat hybrid-electric commuter, and Boom Supersonic on its Overture airliner.

Kirby said he believes that China and Comac’s eventual ascent to become a global commercial aerospace player is “not inevitable, I think it’s unlikely.” A new major player “could be” Brazil’s Embraer, said Kirby. According to reporting by TAC, Embraer is currently weighing its next major strategic project, which includes consideration of a large single-aisle class jetliner that would challenge Boeing and Airbus.

Related: Japan joins the list of Embraer’s possible new airplane partners

Kirby said Boeing, which has struggled mightily through declining single-aisle market share and a series of acute crises in the last half decade, should have launched a replacement to the 737 a decade ago rather than build the 737 Max. “A fundamental mistake that Boeing made was not building, not building the next generation airplane. They should have done that 15 years ago… we wouldn’t be sitting here today with some of the challenges they’ve had with the Max, it’s a platform that is older than I am.”

“They need to build a next-generation narrowbody,” said Kirby.

“The reason they haven’t done it is because, I think, I’m almost certain, is they look at the world and say ‘well, we have a duopoly. Why would we invest $10 billion in a new airplane in a duopoly?’” said Kirby. “That’s the reason. If there’d have been five aircraft manufacturers, they’d have built an airplane 15 years ago.”

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