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Looking beyond the headline-grabbing numbers of the largest widebody aircraft order in U.S. history, United Airlines is positioning itself for a world of increasing scarcity within a global aviation system that is forcing it to rethink how it builds a fleet. Anticipating limitations across runways, gates, airspace, aircraft, pilot availability and environmental pressures, United is beginning to show us what an airline in the 2030s and 2040s is going to look like.

“We need to plan for that new future,” said Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer. “We can’t bet against what seems entirely obvious.”

“I don’t see a lot of new runways being built in our country, or overseas. And aviation is going to have to be different in the future, if that’s the case,” he said in a recent interview with The Air Current. “These are constraints that…we as an airline and as an industry we just can’t ignore and we are tackling head on.”

Related: Not-so ‘doomed’ ULCC airlines offer sharp warning to legacy giants

The Air Current sat down with Nocella and chief financial officer Gerry Laderman late last week to outline United’s plans for the 100 newly ordered 787s arriving at the carrier starting in 2024 and stretching to 2032 — with options for 100 more. The airline is also exercising 737 Max options for 44 jets due in 2024 to 2026 from its previous deals and plans to add 56 more between 2027 and 2028.

“We had a goal in mind a long, long time ago,” said Nocella of completely renewing the airline’s fleet. “And we are on that same path across the full spectrum of United. There’s no guardrail to guardrail strategic plans, it doesn’t work that way.”

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Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network's global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor's degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.

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