United Airlines’ patience with Boeing is maxed out after repeated safety issues

Plans for life without the 737 Max 10 after CEO rated door plug blowout 'the straw that broke the camel's back'

United Airlines, which boasts one of the world’s largest fleets of Boeing aircraft, is considering a future without the next version of the American manufacturer's troubled 737 jet series, the Max 10.

In a Tuesday interview on CNBC, United CEO Scott Kirby referred to the recent grounding of the 737 Max 9 after an door plug blew out in midair, and said he is “… disappointed that the manufacturing challenges do keep happening at Boeing. This isn't new," Kirby said. "The Max 9 grounding is probably the straw that broke the camel's back for us."

United's fleet includes 79 Max 9 aircraft, the most of any US airline. Alaska Airlines, operator of the flight in which the door plug was lost, has 65 of the aircraft

Kirby said that United's remediation process for the Max 9 is nearly complete, and that he has confidence that the type will be completely safe once returned to service. Regardless, Boeing "needs to take action," Kirby said.

Kirby said that he speaks with Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun regularly, and that the aerospace giant's chief exec sympathizes with his frustrations.

That might not be enough at this point.

"I'm a lot more interested in seeing the actions … to get the manufacturing process back to high levels of quality and consistency that historically existed at Boeing," Kirby said.

Max 10? Eh, you can keep 'em

Boeing introduced its largest 737 variant, the Max 10, in 2017 in response to demand for a larger single-aisle aircraft able to compete with the Airbus A321neo.

When orders were opened, United Airlines converted 100 of its 161 outstanding orders of 737 Max 9 airplanes into Max 10 orders. None have been delivered.

Indeed, the Max 10 awaits certification, with test flights only approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration late last year.

Kirby doesn't believe the Max 10 will arrive anytime soon, with the jet already five years behind schedule.

"We've grown increasingly to believe that best case [the Max 10] keeps getting pushed further and further," Kirby said. United will therefore “build a plan that doesn't have the Max 10 in it."

When pressed on what United's 737 Max 10 alternatives may be, Kirby only said that "there are alternative airplanes," adding "obviously [there's] only one other manufacturer that's really an option for us," when asked specifically about Airbus and its A321neo.

Kirby's comments are among the most negative uttered by one of Boeing's largest commercial customers. When asked for a comment on the United CEO's interview, Boeing sent us an apologetic statement that didn't directly address any of our questions or Kirby's statements.

"We have let down our airline customers and are deeply sorry for the significant disruption to them, their employees and their passengers," said Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing's Commercial Airplanes unit. "We are taking action on a comprehensive plan to bring these airplanes safely back to service and to improve our quality and delivery performance."

"We will follow the lead of the FAA and support our customers every step of the way," Deal said. ®

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