United may upgrade some A350 jet orders: sources

CHICAGO, Thu Nov 1, 2012 – United Airlines is mulling upgrading some of its Airbus  A350 orders to the largest member of the European aircraft family in a possible setback for Boeing Co.’s 777 mini-jumbo, industry sources said.

The deal would be seen as a breakthrough for the A350-1000, which suffered a four-year gap in orders until Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd selected the 350-seat aircraft in July.

Airbus is now actively looking for more buyers for the long-range jetliner and weighing an increase in production to keep up momentum for its assault on Boeing’s near-monopoly of the market for aircraft of just under 400 seats.

United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.N) has on order 25 of a smaller category of aircraft, the A350-900, worth $7 billion at current list prices.

The airline may upgrade some of these orders to the A350-1000, or consider a new order for the larger aircraft, or both, an industry source said, asking not to be identified. The source added no decision appeared to be imminent.

United declined to detail the status of its talks regarding buying new aircraft or converting existing orders.

“We continuously have discussions with our aircraft manufacturers,” United spokeswoman Christen David said on Thursday.

EADS subsidiary Airbus declined to comment.