United Airlines adds 100 Boeing jumbo jets in historic move

United Airlines — Denver’s largest private employer — made commercial aviation history Tuesday with an order of 100 new Boeing planes and the option to buy another 100.

The purchase of 100 Boeing 787 Dreamliners counts as the largest order by a U.S. carrier of widebody aircraft, or planes that primarily fly internationally, according to United.

United — the city’s biggest airline, with plans for 90 gates at Denver International Airport by 2023’s end — already offers more international routes than any competitor in the local market, said Matt Miller, vice president of airport operations in Denver.

The move comes as more Americans travel abroad, catching up for time lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trips to Europe, Mexico and Central America fed DIA’s international traffic recovery, as of June.

“United is committed to being the best airline in Denver,” he added. “Today’s purchase of new Boeing 787 Dreamliners will be a wonderful addition to our fleet for Denver, especially since we are the only U.S. airline to offer transatlantic service from our city.”

United, which celebrated its 85th anniversary in Denver this past May, flies to 17 international cities out of more than 170 destinations total. It’s also the only U.S. airline to provide daily direct service to London, Frankfurt and Munich from the Mile High City.

While New York City and San Francisco are considered United’s coastal gateways, “we’ve grown Denver’s international operations dramatically in the last few years,” said Andrew Nocella, executive vice president and chief commercial officer. “Its success in recent years globally — we’ve taken notice of it, and we look forward to expanding further.”

But passengers won’t fly on these new aircraft soon. Nocella expects the planes will begin arriving in 2024 — and up to 2032.

United also bought 44 Boeing 737 MAX planes, which the manufacturer will deliver between 2024 and 2026, with 56 more to come between 2027 and 2028. That brings the airline’s total to about 700 new planes by 2032’s end.

One hundred of the new Dreamliners are set to replace older models, with a plan to retire all Boeing 767 planes by 2030. The end result: “An expected 25% decrease in carbon emissions per seat for the new planes compared to the older planes,” according to Tuesday’s news release.

United aims to go 100% green by 2050 by cutting its greenhouse gas emissions without leaning on traditional carbon offsets.

As airlines grappled with supply-chain issues this year, Nocella admits the new aircraft aren’t “an immediate panacea to some of the challenges that our industry’s faced,” such as flight delays and cancellations. But, in 2023, he expects some problems to “get a little bit better.”

One broader problem is the impending global pilot shortage, as they age out of the industry. United hasn’t faced that challenge yet, although express carriers are reckoning with it, which impacts regional services. “Hopefully, the worst of that is behind us,” Nocella said.

United employs almost 9,000 Denver-based staff members, with more than 1,800 new hires planned for the area next year. Those positions will include baggage handlers, flight attendants, pilots and more, Nocella said.

“We’re excited to see what comes next for Denver.”

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