B737 Max 9 grounding cost United Airlines $200m

The grounding of Boeing 737 Max 9s due to safety concerns was directly responsible for plunging United Airlines into the red in the first quarter of the year.

A pre-tax loss of $164 million “reflect the approximately $200 million impact from the Boeing 737 Max 9 grounding, without which the company would have reported a quarterly profit,” United said. 

The carrier also expects a small number of aircraft previously scheduled to enter service in the current quarter to be pushed into the third quarter, having a “minimal impact” on capacity plans.

Chief executive Scott Kirby said: “We’ve adjusted our fleet plan to better reflect the reality of what the manufacturers are able to deliver.” 

Following the 737 Max 9 grounding and the Federal Aviation Administration’s “significant” production capacity constraints on Boeing, the airline now anticipates 61 narrow-body aircraft and five wide-body aircraft to be delivered this year against a previously expected 101 narrow-bodies. 

The airline has agreed to lease 35 new Airbus A321neos in 2026 and 2027.

B737 Max 9s were ordered out of service for safety checks after a mid-air cabin panel blow out on an Alaska Airlines US domestic flight in January.

United, which has almost 80 of the type in its fleet, had the aircraft grounded for three weeks before US regulators cleared the Max 9 to resume flying.

However, the airline reported strong demand in the first three months of the year, described as a “double-digit percentage increase” over the previous quarter, as compared to the equivalent pre-pandemic period.

Atlantic and domestic markets both saw large passenger revenue per available seat mile increases year-on-year, with 11% and 6% growth respectively.

United “was able to take advantage of a number of opportunities to adjust domestic capacity which drove meaningful improvements in first quarter profitability”.

Overall passenger numbers in the three months to March 31 rose by 6.8% year-on-year to 39.3 million.

Kirby said: “I want to thank the United team for working so hard this quarter to deliver strong operational metrics for our customers and sharpen our focus on safety, while producing excellent financial results for our shareholders.”

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