Soon To Be Extinct: Only 1 Boeing 737-500 Airline Still Serves The US

The B737-500, the so-called ‘baby’ Boeing, has virtually reached the end of serving the United States, at least by airlines. With just three routes remaining, all with Bahamasair, seats for sale by the Classic variant total just 83,800 in 2022. While capacity is next to nothing, it’s not all bad news. The type resumed US service in 2020 after last being withdrawn by Southwest in 2016.

Bahamasair B737-500
Bahamasair has two B737-500s, but only one (C6-BFD) is active. Photo: JTOcchialini via Flickr.

The B737-500 has virtually gone from the US

The B737-500 has nearly disappeared from the US sky, at least in a scheduled airline sense. As you’d expect, it’s a similar story to other older and less fuel-efficient types, such as the B737-300 and the A340.

Now only Bahamasair serves the US with the B737-500. There are three routes to Florida, as shown below. They’re all short airport-pairs with an average distance of just 233 miles (375km). However, the degree to which they see the small narrowbody varies widely by month, with data from Cirium showing that Orlando – 333 miles (536km) away – is responsible for three-quarters of capacity this year.

  • Nassau-Orlando: approximately 63,000 seats by Bahamasair’s B737-500s in 2022
  • Nassau-Fort Lauderdale: 15,000
  • Nassau-Miami: 5,800
Bahamasair B737-500 routes to the US
Bahamasair has scheduled 697 B737-500 flights to the US this year. Image: GCMap.

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The three routes see multiple aircraft types

The small Boeing isn’t Bahamasair’s only equipment to the Sunshine State. Depending on the route, the 138-seat B737-700, 70-seat ATR-72-600, and 50-seat ATR-42-600 are used too, but to significantly different degrees.

Orlando won’t see the ATR-42, and the larger ATR-72 variant will be used on just six round-trips across the year, Cirium indicates. In contrast, Miami will see the turboprops the most, with the ATR-72 used twice as often as the B737-500.

  • Nassau-Orlando: 75% of seats by the B737-500 this year
  • Nassau-Fort Lauderdale: 89% by the B737-700
  • Nassau-Miami: 85% by the B737-700
Bahamasair ATR-42
The ATR-42 last operated to/from Fort Lauderdale on January 11th. Not surprisingly, the flight time back to the Bahamas was about 50% longer than with the B737. The ATR-72 will be used on January 12th, the day of writing. Image: RadarBox.com.

A quick look at Bahamasair’s B737-500s

Bahamasair has two B737-500s. Registered C6-BFD and C6-BFE, they average 28.6 years, ch-aviation.com shows. They have 120 seats in an all-economy layout. Multiple airlines have used the aircraft over the years, and they’re both owned by Bahamasair.

Only C6-BFD is active, RadarBox.com confirms. It was last used on January 11th with just one round-trip between Nassau and Orlando. It has only flown two sectors each day in the past few days, exclusively to Florida.

According to ch-aviation.com, ‘BFD was delivered to Malaysia Airlines in 1993, and it remained until 2000. Air France then utilized it between 2000 and 2005 before it flew to South America to join the fleet of Aerolineas Argentinas. It stayed until 2012, the year it flew north to the warmer climes of the Caribbean with Bahamasair.

Bahamasair B737-500
C6-BFE is currently stored and probably won’t be used again. The photo was taken at Miami. Photo: Venkat Mangudi via Flickr.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this

Eighteen years ago, in 2004, the baby Boeing had 27.2 million seats to, from, and within the US. That may seem a lot in itself, but it was only about 2% of the total seats available. In contrast, the larger and economically stronger B737-300 had 126 million US seats – nearly five times as many. (The B737-400, never especially popular, had 21.2 million.)

In 2004, Southwest, United, Continental, and CanJet used the B737-500. As its name suggests, CanJet was a Canadian operator. In 2004, about one in every five seats were deployed to/from the US. It mainly used the type on a scheduled basis from Montreal to New York LaGuardia, although more routes were to Florida than anywhere else.

United B737-500
This aircraft was obviously previously used by Continental. Photo: Gene Delaney via Flickr.

Not great economics, so…

Historically, the economics of the B737-500 were not favorable compared to the B737-300. While the -300 has a 4% higher MTOW, it’s offset by a 14% higher maximum payload. It goes to the heart of aircraft economics. It is replicated across other aircraft, e.g., B737-600 and B737-700, B737-700 and B737-800, A318 and A319, A320 and A321, between smaller and larger regional jets, and most others.

The B737-500 is too heavy for its payload, meaning higher and less attractive seat-mile costs. Along with effectively scrap value acquisition costs, it explains why users are now typically in developing nations, such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Iran (the latter from sanctions). It’s the same for other older aircraft, like the MD-80 and the B737-400.

Of course, one benefit is that they don’t have to be used much, as with Allegiant and Breeze’s second-hand equipment. The fixed cost (ownership) element would be very low, traded off with higher variable costs, mainly fuel consumption and maintenance.

C-GANH_YVR_(16563834443)
Canada’s Air North still has four B737-500s, including C-GANH. Photo: Eric Salard via Flickr.

Still, Southwest was a crucial B737-500 user

In 2004, almost four in ten B737-500 seats to, from, and within the US were by Southwest. The low-cost carrier’s share gradually rose after United grounded the type in August 2009. The Classic variant returned in 2012 because the ‘new’ United inherited 27 aircraft following its full integration with Continental. They remained until May 2013.

Southwest was the launch customer of the B737-500 in 1990. The last of 25 aircraft arrived in May 1992, with the carrier retiring the last aircraft 24 years later in September 2016. Fittingly, Southwest was the type’s sole US operator between 2014 and 2016. It had gone full circle in the country.

1600px-Boeing_737-500_(Southwest_Airlines)_(2389306174)
Dallas Love to Houston Hobby was Southwest’s leading B737-500 route in the last two years of use. Photo: Eddie Maloney via Flickr.

Intra-Texas remained key until the end

Between 2014 and 2016, Southwest’s B737-500 network revolved around just ten routes. Between them, they had about two-thirds of capacity, Cirium shows. They were deployed on short sectors – an average of just 329 miles (526km) – and mainly involved its classic intra-Texas airport-pairs. Dallas Love to Houston Hobby was first, followed by Hobby to Harlingen, Austin to Love, San Antonio-Love, and Lubbock-Love.

What memories and experiences do you have of the B737-500? Share them in the comments.

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