Boeing close to snagging United order for 777-300ER planes

Boeing is poised to win a United Airlines order for 10 of its largest twin-engine jetliners, bolstering the planemaker’s efforts to continue producing its 777 at a record tempo, said people familiar with its plans.

The Boeing 777-300ERs would be the first of that variant bought by United, as the world’s second-largest carrier looks to replace older aircraft plying its longest routes, said three of the people, who aren’t authorized to speak publicly because talks are private. The deal would have a value of $3.3 billion based on list prices, though airlines commonly get discounts.

By buying now, Chicago-based United might be able to drive a bargain as Boeing seeks orders to keep its Everett, Wash., assembly line humming until a revamped, larger 777 model debuts in 2020, said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst with Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va.-based consultant. Boeing garnered 63 orders for its best-selling wide-body jet last year, a pace it will need to maintain to avoid cutting production rates later this decade.

“Lower fuel prices definitely help” the Boeing case for current-generation aircraft like the 300ER, Aboulafia said in a phone interview.

A 49 percent reduction in jet fuel prices since the start of September makes it less imperative for airlines to hold out for even more efficient planes in development, and they can take advantage of better deals on current models.

The 777 deal could be announced as early as this week, said two of the people. Luke Punzenberger, a United spokesman, and Doug Alder, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, declined to comment on the potential order.

The 300ER is the top-selling of Boeing’s 777 models, popular for its operating efficiency and large cargo hold.

The jetliner seats 386 people in a typical three-cabin layout and can fly 7,825 nautical miles – about 500 miles farther than the four-engine Boeing 747 jumbos that United flies across the Pacific.

United also holds orders for 35 A350-1000 jetliners, an Airbus model sized to directly compete with the largest 777.

Toulouse, France-based Airbus said this month it would aim to squeeze 20 more seats into the jet for a total of 389 in a bid to boost sales.