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United Airlines nears US$7b order for longest-range Airbus A321 jet

[DALLAS] United Airlines Holdings is nearing an order for its first long-range Airbus SE A321neo jets, people familiar with the matter said, dealing a new setback to rival Boeing as the US planemaker struggles through the grounding of its 737 MAX.

The Airbus sale is for 50 of the European company's A321XLR jets, with deliveries to begin in 2024, said the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are private.

Valued at US$7.1 billion before customary discounts, United's order would expand the US foothold of a single-aisle variant capable of handling North Atlantic routes.

With the deal, Airbus lines up another major US customer for a model intended to replace Boeing's out-of-production 757. The Chicago-based manufacturer has postponed deciding whether to develop a new jet of comparable size while it attempts to end the grounding of its workhorse MAX, which was banned from the skies in March after two deadly crashes.

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United's Airbus deal is particularly noteworthy since the Chicago-based airline is one of the largest customers of Boeing's 737 MAX 10 planes, with 100 on order. While that MAX variant is designed to haul a similar number of travelers to the A321, it will lack the range to tackle nine-hour flights like the XLR.

American Airlines Group and JetBlue Airways have already ordered the XLR. Airbus launched the model, its longest-range single-aisle aircraft, in June at the Paris Air Show, with first deliveries planned for 2023. The plane can fly as far as 4,700 nautical miles, or 15 per cent more than the A321LR model.

The XLR will replace some of United's older 757-200 planes, said one of the people familiar with the talks. The airline operates 75 of Boeing's 757 jets, including the larger 757-300 model, and United said in October that it was actively considering how to replace them.

United's board met Tuesday with an agenda that included consideration of the Airbus order. The airline has 180 of the smaller Airbus A319 and A320 models and has been scouring the used market for more A319s.

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