United Airlines, broadening its used-aircraft acquisition strategy to widebodies, will add three Boeing 767-300ERs to its fleet in 2018, continuing a trend that has seen it tap the second-hand market to boost its fleet significantly in the past two years.

The 767-300ERs are said to be coming from Hawaiian Airlines via Boeing Capital and will join United's fleet in the second half of 2018. Hawaiian plans to retire its 767 fleet this year. While the 767s are the only used aircraft included in United's latest fleet plan, which envisions adding 24 mainline aircraft in 2018, executives are leaving the door open for more deals.

“I love used airplanes, as many of you know,” United CFO Andrew Levy told analysts on a recent earnings call. “There will be many more used aircraft to talk about as time goes on and as we take advantage of the spot market.”

United in 2015 broke a long drought of not adding used aircraft with several moves. It brought in four 737-700s—two via purchase and two on leases, Aviation Week’s fleet database shows. In May of that year, it signed a deal to lease up to 25 used Airbus A319s from AerCap, with deliveries slated for 2016-2021. Aviation Week’s data shows that 14 have been added to United’s fleet, including six last quarter.

Besides adding capacity via used aircraft, United has been improving its balance sheet by snapping up aircraft it leases when the time is right. Last year, it bought 46 aircraft off of lease, Levy said, and has 60 more leased aircraft expiring in 2018.

“We probably won’t buy all 60,” Levy said. “It’ll depend on the economics of each transaction, but that’s a very efficient way to add to the fleet or to keep their fleet instead of buying new airplanes.”

United plans to grow its mainline fleet from 744 aircraft on Dec. 31, 2017 to 768 by the end of 2018. Additions include four 777s, seven 787s, 10 737 MAX 9s and the three used 767s.

Its regional fleet plan calls for adding a net of 31 aircraft, boosting the fleet to 549 from 518 by yearend. The additions comprise 40 Bombardier CRJ-200s, one Embraer ERJ-145 and one E175. United plans to remove its last seven Bombardier Dash 8-200s, three ERJ-135s and one CRJ-700. 

The regional capacity boost is part of United’s plan to fortify its domestic hub-and-spoke network by adding more spokes and more frequency on existing routes from smaller markets to its hubs. The carrier plans to increase system capacity by 4%-6% year-over-year each of the next three years.

Sean Broderick avweeksean@gmail.com