United Airlines, the largest carrier at Denver International Airport, has purchased 270 narrow-body jets, an upgrade to its domestic fleet that will boost its flight capacity and bring another 3,000 aviation jobs to Colorado over the next few years.
“It is a lot more than a fleet order. It is about retiring many of our single class 50 seat regional jets. It is about some growth too,” said Andrew Nocella, the airline’s chief commercial officer.
The order, the largest in the company’s history, includes 50 Boeing 737 MAX 8s, which should start appearing this summer, as well as 150 Boeing MAX 10s and 70 Airbus A321neos, which should show up in early 2023. Combined with earlier orders, United Airlines is purchasing more than 500 aircraft as it seeks to upgrade its fleet.
Nocella said the new planes will provide about 30% more seat capacity per departure, operate with greater fuel efficiency and generate less noise, which has proven a contentious issue in Denver.
The planes will come with a customized interior that includes seat-back entertainment screens in every seat, more space dedicated to overhead bins, brighter LED lighting and what United called “the industry’s fastest available in-flight WiFi.”
“There will be a spot for everybody’s bag on board. It will be great for operations,” Nocella said of the faster boarding times that should result.
Rather than trying to pack more seats into the larger cabin space, Nocella said the airline is allocating a larger share to Economy Plus seats, which come with extra legroom. After adding the new planes and upgrading the interiors of its remaining fleet, United said it expects it will have on average 53 premium seats per North American departure by 2026, about 75% more than was the case in 2019.
The heavier emphasis on premium seating reflects confidence in a coming rebound in business travel, which a forecast from the U.S. Travel Association, however, doesn’t expect to regain 2019 levels until 2024.
“We are already seeing leisure traffic bounce back to 100%. We are anticipating a fast and significant bounce-back in business travel. Things are returning to normal quickly,” Nocella said.
The equipment orders coincide with a major gate expansion that United Airlines is undertaking in Denver, putting the city in a good position to claim the additional capacity.
United Airlines operates about 850 jets, which have the oldest average age of the major U.S. carriers at 16.4 years, according to Cirium fleets data. The “United Next” plan will help give the airline one of the youngest fleets around.
United Airlines expects it will need to add 25,000 additional unionized positions to accommodate the new planes, with the biggest hiring waves expected in Newark and San Francisco. Denver is expected to gain 3,000 additional workers across a variety of positions.
This content was originally published here.