Boeing has pulled ahead of Airbus in a race to win an aircraft order potentially worth more than USD$15 billion at list value with United, but intense negotiations lie ahead to close a deal that Airbus is unlikely to abandon without a fight, industry sources said.
Three sources familiar with the talks said on Monday that Boeing is now seen as the front-runner for the order for about 180 narrow-body planes, which would feature mostly the upcoming, fuel-efficient upgrades to the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320.
The sources said a deal could be concluded this summer. United, Boeing and Airbus declined to comment on the upcoming order.
“It is possible that they could do a deal with Boeing now and wink at Airbus and that between now and the end of the year there will be some kind of Airbus order,” said a senior industry source, who asked not to be identified because of the confidential nature of the talks.
“Having merged with Continental, United has a mixed fleet which is dominated by Boeing aircraft, though the current United management team is effectively the Continental team, which had an exclusive Boeing supply relationship for many years,” said Rob Stallard, an aerospace analyst with RBC Capital Markets.
“Any deal is not over until it is signed,” Stallard said.
Boeing and Airbus, the world’s two largest plane-makers, are competing for customers for the next versions of their best-selling narrow-bodies. The 737 MAX, due to enter service in 2017, battles the Airbus A320neo, due to enter service in 2015. Both planes promise double-digit fuel savings.
Narrow-body jets are the industry’s workhorse, feeding the big hubs or operating quick turnarounds for low-cost carriers.
Boeing, which hopes to overtake its rival in orders this year, aims to prevent a repeat of a dramatic win by the European plane maker at rival American Airlines last year.
American placed an order for 460 narrow-bodies last year before entering Chapter 11. The airline previously had been an all-Boeing customer.
Last year, Delta ordered 100 Next-Generation 737-900ER planes with a total list value of USD$8.5 billion.