Southwest Airlines foresees ending up with 50 to 100 Boeing 737-800 aircraft and will take delivery of 20 of the model in 2012, the low-cost carrier says.
It previously confirmed plans to convert at least 20 of its 737-700 orders to the larger aircraft but had not provided the timetable for those 20 or talked about how many it might get in total (Aviation Daily, Dec. 16).
As part of its fourth-quarter earnings release Jan. 20, however, it disclosed it will take 20 in 2012 in a one-to-one replacement for 20 of the 23 Boeing 737-700s it was scheduled to receive that year.
Southwest CFO Laura Wright said the airline is “currently evaluating” how many more orders to convert for 2013 and beyond. Chairman, President and CEO Gary Kelly said 20 airplanes are not enough for the subfleet, adding that the final number “could easily be over 50” and “might approach 100.”
Southwest could use more than 50 of the larger aircraft in the domestic route system “as it exists today,” Kelly added. It also sees opportunities in markets such as Hawaii, Alaska, the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico.
“The more of those we can develop over time, that would logically lead to adding more -800s,” he said.
Under its new Boeing delivery schedule, the airline will take 19 737-700s this year, including two previously owned aircraft, which is three more than previously planned. But in 2012, it will take none, taking delivery of the 20 -800s instead.
That’s a one-to-one replacement for 20 of the 23 -700s previously scheduled for delivery in 2012. One of those 23 will be delivered in late 2011 instead; the other two are being pushed back to 2016.
Southwest is scheduled to take delivery of 71 of the -700s from 2013 through 2016, including 19 in 2013. Boeing’s largest U.S. customer currently operates 737-300, -500 and -700 series aircraft with 122 to 137 seats.
Southwest had long resisted aircraft of more than 150 seats partly because federal rules require a fourth flight attendant; its -800s will have 175 seats. But given the carrier's network and markets, Southwest leadership decided the larger aircraft offers enough advantages. Within the continental U.S., Southwest expects to use the -800 for long-haul operations and service into slot-controlled or gate-restricted markets, such as New York LaGuardia, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Boston.
As for the ongoing re-engining debate, Kelly said, “We are interested in getting a more efficient airplane. Boeing has not given us an answer” and has indicated it will not make a decision until mid-year regarding re-engining and the next generation of the 737. “Based on what they tell us then, I think we’ll have to evaluate our options,” he said.