Why American Airlines Is Not Bringing Back Retired Widebodies

American Airlines is facing a shortage of widebodies. However, the airline is not keen on bringing back the widebodies it retired in 2020. Brian Znotins, American’s Vice President of Network and Schedule Planning, explained why in an interview with Simple Flying.

American Airlines Boeing 767
American Airlines is not looking at bringing back widebody aircraft it retired in 2020. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

With the announcement of the airline’s summer 2022 route network, the airline projected a sense of disappointment over its inability to offer the full breadth of destinations it had once planned. After initially planning to refresh its widebody fleet with Boeing 787 Dreamliners, delivery delays have meant American is short on widebodies that it initially intended to have on the property.

Why American is not bringing back retired widebodies

Mr. Znotins explained the following about the airline’s retired widebody fleet and why the airline decided against bringing those planes back in the schedule:

“In terms of airplanes we retired, we had 767s and 757s and A330s, that we retired. Some of those have been turned to beer cans, some of those have been returned to lessors, and some of them are in the desert. And that’s issue one, but really, issue two is we don’t have pilots trained to fly those airplanes anymore.”

When it comes to training pilots to fly those airplanes, that is also something American does not want to do:

“Training a pilot takes a while. We don’t want to take a pilot off the 787, or off the 777, train them to fly one of these airplanes, and then not need them anymore when fall rolls around. That’s a very inefficient way to go about this. So we retired those airplanes for the betterment of the airline going forward.”

American Airlines
The Boeing 757s were already on their way out when American decided to accelerate retirements due to the crisis. Photo: Getty Images

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American’s retired widebody fleet

Within a month of the global health crisis unfolding, American Airlines decided to immediately retire its nine Airbus A330-300s and 17 remaining Boeing 767-300ERs. In October 2020, the airline decided to retire all 15 of its Airbus A330-200 aircraft. This brought the airline’s widebody fleet down by 41 aircraft.

Though not a widebody, American’s Boeing 757-200s, which still flew long-haul international missions, were also retired, pulling the airline’s international long-haul fleet down by another 34 aircraft.

Speaking at an exclusive webinar for Simple Flying, American’s Chief Revenue Officer, Vasu Raja, described the role that these aircraft had in the fleet. As relatively inexpensive aircraft, American put them in service for some more opportunistic flying. This included service to smaller destinations like Dubrovnik or Budapest during the peak summer months or adding some incremental capacity to major European destinations like London or Rome from other hubs.

Why American Airlines Is Not Bringing Back Retired Widebodies
The Airbus A330s were inherited from the merger with US Airways but were a relatively small portion of American’s fleet, with only 24 of the type in service. Photo: Getty Images.

In April 2020, American Airlines had commitments for 46 Boeing 787 aircraft and 50 Airbus A321XLRs. A year later, in April 2021, American Airlines planned to take delivery of 12 new Boeing 787-8 aircraft by the end of the year. By the fall, due to delays with the Dreamliner, American only expected to receive three 787s in 2021, with the bulk of the remainder moving to 2022. American did take one Boeing 787 when deliveries briefly resumed in the spring. The airline already warned that delivery delays were forcing it to pull down its schedules.

The current widebody fleet

While it still has 67 Boeing 777s and 46 Boeing 787s, it needs more to fully cover the lost shell count from the airline’s retirement of the A330s and B767s. Even pulling out the 777s and 787s from schedules to Asia, where demand is weak, and domestic and short-haul international markets, there are not enough planes to go around for American to fully operate the summer 2021 schedule it wanted to fly.

Why American Airlines Is Not Bringing Back Retired Widebodies
American Airlines is still betting on the Boeing 787, despite delivery delays. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The 787 Dreamliner issue is temporary. American will eagerly take the aircraft once Boeing gets the issues with the program sorted out and can resume deliveries. Whether that comes in time for the airline’s summer 2022 schedules remains to be seen. Mr. Znotins did indicate that there was an opportunity to put the planes into service if they can be delivered on time:

“It depends on the city and it depends on the market. So if [Boeing] told us 120 days to 1 50 days in advance, we think we could throw that capacity into some European markets and have it work. If they’re telling us 60 days in advance, maybe we use that airplane in a short haul market like a Cancun where there’s a shorter demand curve.”

For now, American has decided the best course forward is to move ahead with as large of a summer 2022 schedule as it can create with the available assets it has. The retired widebodies, for now, will not be coming back. But, with the airline’s summer 2022 schedule announcement, it is abundantly clear that the pressure is on Boeing to get the Dreamliner program back up and running for delivery.