United seeks new plane for U.S. flights

United Airlines said it is asking Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS to develop a new narrow-body jet for its domestic fleet. Also Monday, Boeing said it is trying to persuade El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. to resurrect a plan to buy the 787...


United Airlines said it is asking Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS to develop a new narrow-body jet for its domestic fleet.

Also Monday, Boeing said it is trying to persuade El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. to resurrect a plan to buy the 787 Dreamliner.

United wants "the narrow-body equivalent" of a Boeing 787 or an Airbus A350, so it is speaking with the planemakers about starting such a program, Chief Financial Officer Jake Brace said at a Goldman, Sachs & Co. conference in New York.

The Chicago-based airline would use the new planes as replacement aircraft, Brace said. Even if such a jet were built, it wouldn't be ready until 2015, he added. The wide-body 787 Dreamliner and A350 will be more than 50 percent built of composites, cutting their weight to help airlines save fuel.

"We've got the fleet we have, and we'll have it for several years to come," Brace said. United's oldest aircraft are 18-year-old 737s.

Airbus and Boeing have said they won't come out with a replacement before 2012 or 2013 at the earliest. Airbus' A320 and Boeing's 737 are the most widely sold models in commercial aviation. Airbus has delivered more than 3,000 of the former, and Boeing more than 5,500 of the latter.

The time line for Boeing to replace its best-selling plane with a new version depends on engine development and customers' expectations for productivity improvements over current narrow-body planes, Chief Executive James McNerney said in September at a Morgan Stanley conference in New York.

"We are talking to our customers on a one-on-one basis to get insights on what the requirements would be, but there are no plans to replace the 737 at this point," Boeing spokeswoman Sandra Angers said Monday. "This is still very much a study."

Boeing's next version of the 737 will borrow engine, carbon-fiber-composite fuselage and production technology from the Dreamliner, the first delivery of which is set for 2008. Airbus' first A350 will be delivered in 2013. It takes about $1 billion to develop a new engine.

Enginemakers are developing technology to power the replacements. CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Safran SA of France, said last year that it was in discussions with each planemaker.

In Tel Aviv on Monday, Boeing's sales manager for Israel, James Frank, said: "We believe the 787 is the right aircraft for El Al. We're trying to help them get into the 787 family."

Reviving the purchase with Israel's largest airline would help Boeing extend its push to retake the lead in commercial-jet building from Airbus. El Al canceled options in 2006 to buy eight to 10 787s when it had to make the first payments.

El Al spokesman Ran Rahav declined to confirm the talks.

"El Al, in the framework of its multiyear strategy, is always weighing opportunities to improve and rejuvenate its aircraft fleet," Rahav said without elaborating.

The carrier flies an all-Boeing fleet of 36 jets, according to the Ascend Online Fleets database. Arkia Israel Airlines Ltd., an El Al competitor that operates domestic flights and overseas charters, agreed in July to buy four Dreamliners for delivery starting in 2012.

Boeing expects to make $6 billion to $10 billion in sales in Israel during the next 20 years, said Drew Magill, director of marketing for Boeing's commercial airplanes unit.

"Israel is a strong growth market for us," Magill said.

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