United Airlines Weighs Future Growth Plans Amid Boeing 737 Max 9 Grounding

Chicago, IL – United Airlines is considering alternative plans for future growth after the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 9 due to a midair blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight earlier this month. The airline, which currently operates 79 Max 9 planes, expects to report a first-quarter loss as a result of the grounding. However, the uncertainty surrounding the future of the jets also raises questions about when the new, larger version of the plane, the Max 10, will be ready. United has orders for 277 Max 10 jets, with an option to buy 200 more.

During an update on the airline’s financial results, Chief Financial Officer Michael Leskinen expressed doubts about the Max 10’s ability to deliver on its anticipated schedule. While United is not canceling its order for the Max 10s, CEO Scott Kirby admitted that the company no longer expects them to be delivered on time. The delay in deliveries poses challenges for United’s future growth plans, as the carrier will have to move forward without the anticipated fleet expansions.

Kirby, however, expressed confidence in Boeing, stating that the manufacturer is committed to making necessary changes and fixes. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines, which has a smaller number of Boeing Max 9 aircraft, is also expected to face financial and operational impacts due to the grounding. The 65 Max 9 planes make up more than 25 percent of Alaska’s mainline fleet.

The grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 9 came after an incident on an Alaska Airlines flight where a plug covering an optional emergency exit came off, leaving a gaping hole in the plane’s side. While no one was seriously injured, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) immediately grounded the plane and is working with Boeing on a plan to inspect the other Max 9s in service for safety purposes. The grounding has resulted in numerous flight cancellations for both United and Alaska Airlines, and has also led to a loss of confidence in Boeing.

This disruption follows a relatively smooth year for the airline industry after the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Improved conditions have resulted in financial boosts for airlines, including United reporting $600 million in profits for the final quarter of 2023. Stan Deal, the head of Boeing’s airliner division, acknowledged the disruptions and emphasized that the company is following the lead of the FAA in addressing the issues.

Despite the setback, United remains a major Boeing customer, with the airline placing a large aircraft order in 2021. However, the cause of the Alaska incident is still under investigation, raising concerns about Boeing’s quality control. The FAA has initiated a review of the company’s manufacturing process and Boeing has appointed a new internal adviser to conduct an internal review.

As the airline industry faces ongoing challenges and uncertainties, United and other carriers will need to navigate the impacts of the Boeing 737 Max 9 grounding and adjust their growth plans accordingly.