Boeing is in talks with United Airlines and at least five other companies as the U.S. planemaker tries to line up initial customers for its 737 Max 10 jetliner and gain ground on a fast-selling Airbus model, people familiar with the matter said.
The roster of potential buyers of the largest-ever 737, which is expected to launch this month, spans the globe. Initial sales prospects include Indonesia's Lion Mentari Airlines, the aircraft-leasing arm of China's development bank, Jet Airways India, SpiceJet and Copa Holdings, said the people, who asked not to be named because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.
The U.S. manufacturer is seeking a groundswell of orders to demonstrate the Max 10's market appeal and strike back at the A321neo, Airbus's largest narrow-body jet, which is capturing trans-continental routes once dominated by Boeing's out-of-production 757. The Max 10 talks aren't final and Airbus could still try to thwart the sales ahead of the Paris Air Show later this month.
A spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing declined to comment on the talks. Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for United, declined to comment on a potential order, as did CDB Aviation Lease Finance, the Chinese aircraft lessor, Jet Airways and SpiceJet. Lion and Panama City-based Copa didn't immediately comment.
The newest 737 Max would seat about 220 passengers in a single-cabin layout popular with budget carriers while burning about 5 percent less fuel than its similarly sized Airbus rival, according to the U.S. company. The Boeing jet isn't slated to enter the commercial market until 2020. Airbus delivered the first A321neo earlier this year and has garnered 1,416 total orders, according to the company's website.
"We aren't looking to simply build something on par with the A321neo," said Randy Tinseth, a Boeing vice president for marketing. "We're bringing a better airplane to the market -- and that's our focus."
Airbus sales chief John Leahy dismissed the competitive threat in comments to reporters this week, saying the U.S. planemaker was responding to the A321neo only because the Airbus plane outsold the Max 9 by a four-to-one ratio. The Max 10's frame would be five feet longer than that of the Max 9. Boeing doesn't break out its Max sales by variant.
Boeing is "flailing about, trying to come up with some answer to it that doesn't cost them a fortune," Leahy said. "Usually those things in aviation don't work successfully."
United Continental Holdings is studying whether to convert 61 orders for the 737 Max to the -10 version, while taking a handful of Boeing 777-300ERs, the largest twin-engine jetliner currently flying, some of the people said. The carrier gained the production slots last year after it converted an earlier order for the Boeing 737-700 to the Max. The Chicago-based airline is also considering an A321neo order, the people said.
Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz said United, the third-largest U.S. carrier, was "interested" in the Max 10, during a brief interview on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association meeting in Cancun, Mexico, this week.
Jet Airways, India's biggest full-service airline, is preparing to order 50 single-aisle jets, Bloomberg reported June 5. The airline, which operates an all-Boeing narrow-body fleet, is evaluating the Max 10, the high-density Max 200 as well as the Airbus A321neo.