Merged airlines affirm Boeing, Airbus orders to refresh fleet

NEW YORK — American Airlines and US Airways said Thursday they will follow through on orders for new planes from Boeing and Airbus, rejuvenating fleets amid a merger that creates the world’s largest carrier.

The new company will honor American’s July 2011 decision to buy 460 single-aisle jets, including from both planemakers, the industry’s largest order ever. American intends to replace more than half of its fleet of Boeing MD-80s with 737-800s and recently ordered 42 787 Dreamliners. US Airways is slated to receive 76 Airbus aircraft, according to the manufacturer’s website.

“The existing aircraft orders between the two companies we like and can remain in place as is, with deliveries as scheduled,” US Airways Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker, who will be CEO at the merged company, said Thursday. “We can still have the kind of growth rates we think are right for the combined carrier, which we think are modest. There are so many replacement opportunities for the combined airline.”

American began overhauling its fleet, one of the oldest among U.S. carriers, before seeking bankruptcy protection in November 2011. The airline had historically favored Boeing planes until its record order. US Airways has preferred Airbus, taking delivery of its last Boeing jet in 1995, according to the Chicago-based planemaker’s website.

American’s primary jet total was 608 aircraft as of Dec. 31. Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways, which says it “operates the world’s largest fleet of Airbus aircraft,” had 340. United Continental Holdings Inc., which has been the world’s biggest airline, reported 702 aircraft at year-end.

American is seeking to replace more than half the 190 Boeing MD-80s in its fleet with more fuel-efficient 737s and Airbus A320s by 2017, it said Thursday in a presentation to investors and customers. The MD-80, a workhorse of American’s domestic routes, went out of production in 1999, and Boeing’s newer 737-800 aircraft are 25 percent more efficient.

At the end of 2011, US Airways had 244 planes made by Airbus and 81 Boeing jets, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. All of American’s 608 aircraft at that date were manufactured by Boeing or companies it has acquired, according to a separate filing.

Both carriers have ordered the planemakers’ most advanced new jets. Fort Worth, Texas-based American last week signed for a purchase of 42 of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner wide-body planes, while US Airways has committed to 22 of Airbus’s A350 aircraft, according to the planemakers.

“Clearly Doug Parker and the guys at US Airways have been a great Airbus customer, so that might be a big issue for Boeing,” Ken Herbert, an analyst with Imperial Capital in San Francisco, said in an interview yesterday.

On the other hand, he said, Boeing may have gained an advantage in the 2010 merger of United Airlines, which had a mixed fleet, and Continental Airlines, which flew all-Boeing. Continental CEO Jeff Smisek took over in that combination.

Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s marketing chief, said American’s orders weren’t in jeopardy.

“We have a firm order that was booked last week,” Tinseth said. “They’re both great customers. We look forward to continuing the strong relationship we’ve had in the past.”

Justin Dubon, a spokesman for Toulouse, France-based Airbus, said the company looks forward to “continuing our strong partnerships with both” airlines.

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