By Jeffrey Dastin
(Reuters) - United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.N) on Wednesday announced plans to lease up to 25 used aircraft from AerCap Holdings NV, one of the world's largest aircraft lessors (AER.N), to reduce its dependence on smaller, 50-seat jets.
The Chicago-based airline said it expects delivery of 11 used Airbus Group NV (AIR.PA) A319 aircraft over the next two years, with the right to add up to 14 more of the single-isle planes over the next five years, subject to certain conditions.
The additions are part of a broader fleet reorganization United unveiled last month that aims to match bigger planes with markets of growing demand, without increasing its spending or capacity forecasts.
Integral to the plan is removing 50-seat jets flown by United's regional contractors, which can waste more fuel per passenger than larger planes. The carrier said it will take 130 of these aircraft off its schedule by the end of 2015, with more cuts to come later.
As an example, United said it now might fly two A319s, which have more than 120 seats, on a route that currently operates with three 70-seat jets. It then could use those 70-seaters on routes in which it currently uses the 50-seat planes.
"Our flexible fleet plan allows us to opportunistically add used aircraft when the economics are attractive," United's Fleet Vice President Ron Baur said in a statement.
Cheap fuel prices, down more than 40 percent since June, have made it increasingly affordable to fly old, less fuel-efficient jets.
China Southern Airlines Co Ltd <600029.SS> currently operates the A319s that United will lease, with first deliveries starting in early 2016.
United said it will add new seats, overhead-bin extensions and Wi-Fi to the planes, and it will perform checks so they align with its maintenance program.
United said last month that the lease of 10 to 20 used narrowbody aircraft would not alter its forecast for yearly capital expenditures of $2.7 billion to $2.9 billion over the next three to four years.
(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Alan Crosby and Chris Reese)