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United to add 2,600 jobs in Chicago as part of plan to replace its aging fleet

by staff

United Airlines went big Tuesday, placing an order for 100 new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, with an option to purchase 100 more of the widebody jets as it looks to improve fuel efficiency, expand international service and replace aging aircraft in its fleet over the next decade.

The Chicago-based airline is also buying 100 Boeing 737 Max airplanes for domestic flights.

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“This is a historic order,” Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said during a signing event Tuesday at its 787 assembly facility in South Carolina. “It’s the largest 787 order in history.”

The massive United order will keep Boeing workers busy at its manufacturing sites in South Carolina and Washington, where the 737 is built. It is also expected to add thousands of jobs for both companies, including new positions for United in Chicago next year, the airline said Tuesday.

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United has hired about 15,000 people this year and expects to add a similar number next year as it recovers from the pandemic disruption and travel demand bounces back to 2019 levels. The airline has 90,000 employees worldwide.

The Boeing order alone will create 2,600 new jobs next year in the Chicago area, as United staffs up to handle the increased capacity the refreshed fleet will enable, the airline said.

“Those jobs are going to be a mix of pilots, flight attendants, ground workers and technicians, and will also probably include people at our corporate headquarters,” United spokesperson Maddie King said.

United has about 14,000 employees in the Chicago area, including 4,000 employees at its Willis Tower headquarters and about 900 network operations employees in Arlington Heights, King said.

The companies did not disclose financial terms of the orders. United said it can choose among three sizes of the 787, which carry list prices ranging from $248 million to $338 million per plane, but airlines routinely negotiate deep discounts on aircraft orders. United expects to take delivery of the new widebody planes between 2024 and 2032.

United will retire all of its Boeing 767 planes from service by the end of the decade, the airline said.

The 787 order was touted as a significant upgrade for United as it looks to grow its international service, with a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions per seat compared with the 767, the airline said. For passengers, the twin-aisle 787 features larger windows, LED lighting, high-tech amenities and a lower cabin altitude setting to reduce jet lag on longer flights.

The order also is welcome news at Boeing. The U.S. aircraft maker is still struggling to recover from two deadly 737 Max crashes, production flaws on the 787, and setbacks in other programs including a contract to build two new Air Force One presidential planes. It has lost more than $21 billion since 2019.

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The 737 Max was completely grounded in 2019 in the wake of two crashes within less than six months. United purchased 200 737 Max planes in June 2021.

United could have chosen the A350, built by Boeing’s European rival, Airbus. United already has 45 A350s on order but doesn’t expect to start receiving them until 2030.

At the signing event, United CEO Scott Kirby said the airline went with Boeing, and re-upped orders of the 737 Max despite recent issues with Boeing, citing a long history of working together.

“The reason we’re standing here today is because I trust you and I trust your company,” Kirby said in an address to Boeing employees.

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The Associated Press contributed.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

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