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United Airlines blames Boeing problems for $200m hit to earnings

<span>United Airlines had to cancel hundreds of flights because of the three-week grounding of Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft.</span><span>Photograph: Miguel Rodriguez/Reuters</span>
United Airlines had to cancel hundreds of flights because of the three-week grounding of Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft.Photograph: Miguel Rodriguez/Reuters

United Airlines has blamed a $200m (£161m) hit to its earnings in the first three months of the year on the mid-flight blowout that forced it to ground many of its Boeing planes.

The US carrier said the three-week grounding of 737 Max 9 jets after a cabin panel blew out on a flight operated by rival Alaska Airlines at the start of January contributed to a $124m loss in the three months to the end of March.

United, which had to cancel hundreds of flights, said it would have reported a quarterly profit without the disruption.

Related: Boeing employees’ use of safety concern service up 500% after panel blowout

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In January, US regulators ordered the temporary grounding of 171 Boeing 737 Max 9s after the Alaska Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing because a mid-cabin door plug blew out at 16,000ft. An initial investigation by the safety watchdog found the panel appeared to have been missing four bolts.

United Airlines had to ground 79 Max 9 aircraft during the three-week period, the most by any carrier. Alaska Airlines, which has the second most Max 9 planes, revealed this month that it received $160m in compensation because of the grounding of flights.

On Tuesday, a whistleblower claimed Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners were at risk of premature failure and called for them to be grounded worldwide.

Sam Salehpour, who has worked at Boeing as an engineer for more than a decade, alleged the plane maker took shortcuts to reduce production bottlenecks while constructing the 787. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating Salehpour’s claims.

Boeing responded by saying it was fully confident the 787 Dreamliner was safe, adding that criticisms of the structural integrity of the planes were inaccurate.

United Airlines also said on Tuesday that restrictions put in place by the FAA to limit Boeing’s production capacity meant it would receive only 66 aircraft this year, down 25% on expectations.

The carrier’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, said: “We’ve adjusted our fleet plan to better reflect the reality of what the manufacturers are able to deliver.”

The aircraft delivery delays have caused United to pause pilot hiring and offer voluntary unpaid leave to its pilots.

Despite the Boeing disruption, the carrier reported robust demand for domestic and transatlantic flights, along with a pickup in corporate travel spending.