If you’re a fan of all things United, you’ve been following the news about the aircraft that we’re steadily adding to our fleet to take advantage of technology advances and to help maximize fuel efficiency. In fact, we’re adding 25 new mainline jets to our fleet this year. You may even be up on all the specific improvements that we’re making to our older planes – including updating our cabin interiors and installing winglets.
Many planes in our newer fleet boast features that were designed expressly to enhance the inflight experience. Witness the Boeing Sky Interior, with its new overhead bins, enhanced lighting system and high-tech air vents. Some of our new planes are more eco-friendly – specifically, the Boeing 737-900ER, which is 25 percent more fuel efficient per seat than the B737-500 that it’s replacing.
That tells you a little something about additions and improvements to our fleet. But what about the aircraft that we retire? Ever wonder what happens to those planes? "While it's exciting to evaluate and acquire new aircraft, selling our used aircraft is very challenging and requires a lot of creativity," explained Fleet VP Ron Baur. United has a dedicated Fleet department that is responsible for bringing in the new and selling the old.
Initially, aircraft that are no longer in service head to the dry climates of Arizona or California, where they’re stored while their futures get mapped out. After that, our retired aircraft go one of two routes: they’re sold as “flyers” for use in the air by other airlines, or they’re parted out. (Leased planes, which represent a small percentage of our overall aircraft, are returned to the leasing outfit upon retirement.)
Our planes as full-fledged flyers
The first option is the best one for United: to sell retired planes to other airlines – typically smaller operators outside of the U.S. Often these airlines aren’t able to purchase brand new aircraft or they’re fairly far down on the waiting list of orders with Boeing or Airbus. "Finding a buyer who wants to continue to fly the plane is ideal," said Fleet Transactions Director Steve Herzberg.
In some cases, fully intact aircraft are purchased for non-passenger use. Recently, a private company that was formed to work on a rocket-related project purchased two of our retired Boeing 747s to use for parts.
Our planes as parts
On those occasions when we’re unable to sell a retired aircraft for use as a flyer, we contract with a consignment agent to dismantle the planes and their engines – even galley equipment and seats – and sell the parts separately to various global operators. To date, we’ve sold 57 airframes and 110 engines.
People transform airplane parts into furniture and other creative products. According to Surplus Sales Senior Manager Jim Garcia, "Some material has even been sold to Hollywood studios for set pieces." You never know: While trolling eBay for goodies, you just may find the perfect United plane part to complete your latest project.