American Airlines Could Follow Delta’s Lead With 777 Retirements

American Airlines, like so many others, is eyeing a ‘right-sizing’ of its future fleet. With the 767s and A330s already being phased out, the airline could now be mulling a retirement of the Boeing 777-200ERs too. In a conversation at the Wolfe Global Transportation Conference this week, President Robert Isom noted how the incoming 787 Dreamliners could serve as replacements for older 777s, rather than expanding the fleet.

American Airlines 777-200
American Airlines could be looking to phase out some 777-200s. Photo: Getty Images

American mulling 777 retirements

With the world still reeling from the surprise announcement by Delta that its recently refurbished Boeing 777s would not be coming back into service, it now seems like the world could lose more triple sevens before the virus is done. Will Horton shared in Forbes today that American Airlines is also considering replacing its 777s as part of a review of its future fleet strategy.

The airline, like so many others, is taking the current crisis as an opportunity to ‘right-size’ its fleet. It will undertake a six-month review of the size and scope of its operations, which looks to provide a platform to retire at least some of the Boeing 777s.

According to the Forbes report, President Robert Isom told the Wolfe Global Transportation Conference that,

“Those 787s that are coming in – they can serve as potential growth or they can take out additional 777s over the long run as that fleet ages.”

American Airlines 777
Some of American’s 777s have been used for cargo during the crisis. Photo: Getty Images

The pre-COVID long-haul fleet for American was made up of a mix of A330s, 787s, and 767s. However, as a result of the crisis, the airline retired its entire fleet of Boeing 767s, with the last leaving at the end of March. Nine of its A330s have already been retired, with the remaining 15 stored at Roswell. It’s unknown if any of these aircraft will return to the carrier’s fleet.

Isom’s comments at the conference this week suggest they won’t as he noted, “from a widebody perspective, we’re down to 787s and 777s.”

A future built on Dreamliners

It was 2018 when American Airlines placed a huge order for 47 Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The order was split between 22 of the smaller 787-8 and 25 787-9s. At the time, it was expected that these 47 aircraft would slowly replace the airline’s A330s and 767s, as well as perhaps a couple of the older 777 too.

Now, it seems that the right-sizing of the fleet might not see the 787s replacing just those already-exiting aircraft, but the 777s too. Specifically, American could look to retire some of the Boeing 777-200ER, of which it sports a fleet of 46 with an average age of 15.5 years.

American Airlines 787-8
Could American’s future long-haul fleet be focussed on the 787? Photo: American Airlines

Right now, 20 of the 46 aircraft are over the age of 20, but by 2022 this number will have risen to 42. While that doesn’t automatically make the aircraft useless, it would make sense for the airline to retire the older members, instead replacing them with the more efficient 787 Dreamliners for its future long-haul needs.

Of course, so much depends on how the market rebounds post-COVID. In a more optimistic scenario, the incoming 787s could still serve as a delayed replacement for the 767s and A330s alongside the 777. SVP of Strategy at American Airlines, Vasu Raja, commented,

“If indeed international comes back fast, we have levers including the 787s as Robert mentioned.”

Will you be sad to see American Airlines’ 777s start to leave the fleet? Do you think the 787 would make a suitable replacement? Let us know in the comments.