Southwest Airlines Considers The Airbus A220 Amid Boeing 737 MAX Fiasco  

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It seems that some of the Southwest Airlines team are on a trip to Europe, to ‘kick the proverbial tires’ of an A220. What in the world are Boeing’s most loyal customer doing over at Airbus? Could they really be considering defecting to the ‘other’ side?

Airbus A220-100
Airbus A220-100. Photo: Airbus.

Southwest are the most loyal of any airline to Boeing, but it appears that the recent issues with the 737 MAX could have begun to sour their close relationship. Southwest, as the biggest operator of the MAX, were hit the hardest when the aircraft was grounded, and are anticipating it being out of service until at least August.

Could this be enough to turn Southwest against Boeing? It seems it might be, as The Air Current recently learned that members of the Southwest team have been away in Europe evaluating the Airbus A220. This was reported by Jon Ostrower, Editor-In-Chief of The Air Current on Twitter:

This comes despite Southwest CEO Gary Kelly expressing his confidence in the 737 MAX just last week, as reported by Bizjournals, saying that the airline had no plans to change their orders for the jets. The airline has more MAX jets on order than any other customer. He is quoted as saying:

“Obviously, at this point in time, we don’t have any plans to change there. But like anyone, we’ll have to constantly evaluate what’s available in the marketplace. And we’ve been a Boeing customer all these years, and I think chances are we’ll continue to be a Boeing customer.”

Southwest’s long standing love for Boeing

According to The Air Current, when Southwest was founded, Herb Kelleher made a deal which was sealed on nothing more than a handshake. The deal said that “no airline on Earth would ever pay less for a 737 than Southwest”, and although it wasn’t signed and sealed, that deal has been largely honored over the decades.

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Southwest aren’t just a customer of the 737; they have been instrumental in guiding the development of the aircraft too.

Southwest Airlines have been loyal 737 customers since they launched.
Southwest Airlines have been loyal 737 customers since they launched. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

The unique partnership between Boeing and Southwest has benefitted both parties. For Southwest, they get a top service and the best prices from the US plane maker. For Boeing, they get an invested airline ready to help with ideas and feedback.

However, if the rumors are to be believed, the loyalty of Southwest could be coming to an end. If the most Boeing of all Boeing customers, is ready to defect to Airbus over the 737 MAX fiasco, it doesn’t bode at all well for the future of the aircraft.

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Pilots uncertain

Over a week ago, the leadership of the Southwest Airlines pilots union (SWAPA) began to question their all-Boeing fleet strategy. Since its inception, Southwest has only operated 737s, a strategy which has brought about all sorts of economies and enabled the low cost carrier to prove a worthy competitor to the US legacy airlines.

However, as reported by the Seattle Times, pilots are not convinced that this is still the right way to do this. Following a three hour meeting between SWAPA and the FAA, president of SWAPA Jon Weaks sent out a memo to its members. Within the memo, he referred to “the advantages and disadvantages of an airline having a single fleet and having aircraft from only one manufacturer.”

Southwest airlines 737
Could Southwest be looking away from Boeing? Image: Wikimedia

The memo clearly channeled a degree of anger from pilots regarding the MCAS, particularly how it was never mentioned in pilots training and wasn’t even in the MAX flight manuals. Weaks said, “Boeing will, and should, continue to face scrutiny of the ill-designed MCAS and initial nondisclosure of the new flight control logic,”

That the pilot union of such a devoted Boeing customer is raising the possibility of purchasing planes from another manufacturer speaks volumes about just how damaging the past few months have been for both Boeing and Southwest.

Will Southwest buy the A220?

If Southwest are planning to move away from a single model fleet, then the A220 could be a suitable replacement. While the 737 can fit a few more passengers than the A220, the comforts on board may make up for this. The seat size on the A220 are an inch wider and have up to two inches more pitch. It has a range of roughly 100 nmi longer, will cost much less to run and can land on shorter runways than the MAX.

One thing that might be a deal breaker for Southwest is the cost. With the sort of discounts they’re getting on the 737 MAX, they could buy two of them for the cost of one A220. However, we’d full expect Airbus to offer them a cracking discount too; after all, what’s it worth to them to draw away Boeing’s most loyal customer?

Do you think Southwest will buy A220s for their fleet?

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