Southwest Airlines Considers The Airbus A220 Amid Boeing 737 MAX Fiasco  

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:

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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.

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.

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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KP

NO — its called taking care of the customer! Its something Southwest is good at and as you noted, they are hurting right now. Please, poke the dog with a stick and then scream MAD DOG.

Caroline

SouthWest can borrow all the funds it needs to buy Airbus aircrafts (and forget about the 737 Max or the Dreamliner) because SW has a huge base of customersand big market shares it does not want to lose.
I m sure Boeing will resume its popularity with passengers one day but not for some time right now.

cec

As Airbus is considering an A220-500, maybe SW sees a brighter future there. All reports I see about the 220 are excellent.

KP

Really? Is that why Bombardier had to pan it off since they were losing money on it and selling it to Delta “cheaper then they could build it”. It seems to me if it was such an excellent aircraft, there would be a lot more orders and they could sell it at reasonable prices

SR

The A220 was not panned off on Airbus. The US govt was going to impose a 35% tax on the Delta purchase so Airbus agreed to build the CS100 in Alabama for Bombardier. Boeing was instrumental in getting the govt to impose such a high tax because they have nothing to compete with the CS100.

KP

UH, Check your fact there SR. That little lawsuit by Boeing was dropped long before Airbus took over anything. And, second, they now have the E-jets, they played the same game and those E-Jets are selling just fine.

KP

The Hurt i referred to is making all the flights to take care of customers not financially, Southwest could order 1000 jets and get the money for it easy. I love how people say – 2 crashes and i don’t want to ride in that thing. How many flights did Southwest do with their MAX’s and no issues. The two crashes were not from the largest operations of the jet and the findings are out yet, just preliminary but here we go- JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS. Yes, Boeing is doing something about it – if they didn’t then everybody would say… Read more »

ian killminster

Boeing put too big an engine on too small a plane which changed flight characteristics to level that need serious attn. In came mcas which Boeing hid away and did not disclose until after it killed 100’s of people. “the findings are not out yet” but Boeing are doing several rounds of mea culpas ahead of the full release but here you are are a disgraceful little fan boy or maybe paid troll either way your opinion is worthless drivel.

KP

Really ian, must of hit one of your little nerves. So why isn’t the Airbus A320neo having issues, the LEAP 1 is under it, it used the same CFM engine the NG used on its CEO – so Airbus made the same jump from same engine to same engine — and its really funny — all the reports out there, nobody is yelling – THE ENGINE is the problem. So you must just be a little frustrated boy who is an Airbus fan and maybe you can explain why their A320 isn’t having any issues since both are Just about… Read more »

Fabio

I don’t get it. For once, if SW had been so loyal to Boeing, being this partnership excellent for both parties, why haven’t they come up with a deal including the newly acquired Embraer E2 jets? It’s flown US nation wide by all other major US airlines. And also, E2 jets are the evolution from which former Bombardier evolved their CRJs into their A220. Why the hack nobody talks about it as if ERJ don’t even exist?!?

pricerman

I am retired from the company that makes all landing gear for the 737 aircraft….for the sake of my former coworkers, I sincerely hope the MAX program flourishes once this flaw is corrected. I do see a significant possibility that SWA will move to a two aircraft fleet. I think there are ample reasons for them to go with the A220 and if they do, unfortunately it could be the first of a few defections. Boeing needs to do some serious evaluation of their processes that led to this disaster.

home run baker

Don’t sell planes to third world countries with inferior pilots and training processes!!!!

Félix L

Yes…SW will turn to Airbus… It will need to enlarge The Airbus facilities in Mobile as well. Means 2400 jobb on the table.

Frank

“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. ” Uhhhhh….no. Boeing was screaming to the heavens how Delta got it’s A220’s cheaper then cost, now you allege that you can get 2 Max’s for the price of one A220? Not likely… List Prices MAX 7: US$99.7 million MAX 8: US$121.6M MAX 200: US$124.8M MAX 9: US$128.9M MAX 10: US$134.9M as of 2019 -100: US$ 79.5 million -300: US$ 89.5 million It was… Read more »

Silv

Frank,
By now everyone knows that simpleflying.com is strongly skewed for Boeing.
All the airplanes they compare side to side, Boeing somehow always wins…

Nicholas Cummins

Hi Silv,
I can point to a dozen articles in which Boeing is not the leader nor comes out in a good light. In fact, when we award Airbus any sort of praise we get accused of being shrills for them as well.

Frank

So Nicholas – do you care to address the financial statement made by the article, concerning the claim that SWA can get two 737 Max’s for the price of one A220?

I am curious to know how the author got those figures, based on list prices, reports on discounts and the Boeing/Delta debacle…

Thanks

KP

Maybe because they are better. That’s why they don’t get our government to give them research money and when they screw up – they eat the cost

Warbirdtees

Or being rewarded by the US government by well overpaid military contracts to keep up the screen Boeing isn’t subsidized by its government…..

I’m not for one or for the other, but I can’t say that Boeing isn’t sponsored by the US Government

Charley

The MAX problem will turn out to be “operator error”. There is a reason Ethiopian delayed until literally the last hour providing all DFDR data.

WN is a Boeing house. Switching to Airbus would be akin to a sex change for the operations side of the house. That said, as they run out of city-pairs where they work their “Southwest Effect”, they might have to go to smaller long haul markets suited to the A220.

roger colman

Frank, How certain are you that design work is currently proceeding on a C500? . On previous Bombardier releases 2+ years ago, they defined the R&D as c$500m for a c500. Would all this still be valid?
I make the 500 c205 pasengers based upon +6 meters or c30+ seats, wing loading and weight relativities to 321 series (couldnt get the table to align) but the wing loading is capable, and the wingspan same as 321, and weight advantage considerable. The question of whether the engines are enough I dont know.

321 c300 c100 c500 on 321 c100/c300
seats 230 160 130 205
length 44.51 38.7 35 44.25
winspan 35.8 35.1 35.1 98%
wing area 122.4 112.3 92%
cabin width 3.7 3.28 weight chg lengh chg
OEW 48500 37081 35221 91% 5.3% 10.57%
MTOW 93500 67585 90%

Paul Proctor

Southwest is looking at A220 because it is both a new product and a future competitive threat, to be used by proposed new Moxie airline and maybe others. But I can’t see it standing up well to Southwest’s intensive operations.

William

It may not be Southwests dissatisfaction with the MAX issues. The Smaller of the two A220, the A220-100 adds some unique capabilities in landing field length and thinner routes probably not possible with either the B737 MAX 7 or 8. Given Jet Blue, Delta and “Moxy” are using the A220 maybe Southwest are nervous about a new business model that can partially circumvent theirs.

Jack Abbott

The A220 is a massive cash boon for its carriers since it was a deliberately overbuilt, true heavy-duty high-utilization aircraft certified to perform more flight cycles between maintenance A or C checks and less lifetime overhauls than the A320 and 737. Swiss and Air Baltic operate their aircraft 3 to 4 flights per day, 16 hours a day, with dispatch reliability is currently 99.85% with those airlines, a little higher than well-maintained 737 Next Gen aircraft. The caveat is that the early-production 2015-16 Pratt and Whitney geared turbofan engines need special starting, handling and post-flight shut-down by pilots to preserve… Read more »

Chris

Having a single fleet type is a crucial component of Southwest’s enduring success story. Adding a whole new aircraft type to the fleet would add expenses and complexity to an airline known for consistency. Perhaps they want a replacement for the older 737-700s, but that might be a good discussion between WN and Boeing. The 737 is a durable plane that stands up well to WN’s quick-turn schedules, and we really don’t know how well composite aircraft like the A220 will stand up to the bumps and scrapes of the ramp environment. While its easy enough to repair dings in… Read more »

Nigel

I haven’t heard any 787 operators complaining about bumps and scrapes to their composite fuselages. The turnaround isn’t as tight as for narrowbodies, but widebodies also get wear-and-tear from freight loading/unloading, which isn’t an issue for Southwest.

Chris

The problem with composite fuselage components is that while they may not show any damage when bumped by ground vehicles or impact with foreign objects, below the surface cracks may be present. Its a known issue that airlines have to take extra precautions with composite aircraft.

Nigel

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryanair do something similar: they also have a huge “737-only” fleet, and may now be facing the consequences of putting all their eggs in one (very badly designed) basket. Unlike Southwest, Ryanair have a young fleet of 737NGs — which will keep going for a long time to come — but they also have 200 MAXs on order. Now that they’ve acquired Lauda (an all-Airbus airline), they have the opportunity to evaluate Airbus aircraft, and have already disclosed that they’re considering ordering 100+ A320/A321 NEOs for that airline. If Ryanair were to defect from the… Read more »

Atlas

Why not a320 or 321?
Why whould they go with smaller airplane?
Only reason I can think of is that they can get them soner, but is that a reason enough?

Michael R Bowman

The Max8 and -800 models of the 737 do that job very well. The A220 would probably replace the -700 models and might be used for long and thin regional markets and to open new cities expanding the Southwest Effect

Dequan Clarke

I think they should give the A220 a try especially the 300 variant its nice to try something new but Airbus she give them a discount

Jack Abbott

The A220 is Bombardier’s creation, and Air Baltic’s CEO will end up marketing the A220 to Southwest. He stated publicly that “nothing is able to compete with this aircraft”. It took 12 years to create a plane with no compromises: the A220 is a powerful short-field aircraft, a fast climber and history’s most fuel-efficient narrow-body aircraft. Southwest pilots will never look back when they have those huge Pratt GTF engines, big Irish wings and a cockpit that combines the best of Airbus and Boeing into one machine.

Kaden

The A220 would be a great plane for South West.

KP

Oh Nigel — you must be a real Airbus fan — The Boeing 737 is a badly designed product? Really, that is funny. You must have missed that news about an American Airlines Airbus taking a swerve at JFK. By the way, which airplane has sold more and preferred plane for the most successful airlines in the world?

Nigel

I didn’t say the 737 was a badly designed product…I was referring to the MAX.

KP

So the MAX is a bad design? What is different about the MAX from the NG? A few more tech gadgets since pilots need the plane to fly itself and uprated engines. Pilots are getting where the plane does the work and they ride along for when things go sideways and when they do in older planes– it was ALWAYS pilot error, now with tech, its the planes fault. I read a report that says the pilots of the latest crash kept the engines firewalled and were approaching something near 500 knots when they crashed so unless they forgot that… Read more »

Silv

The MAX is a compromise. They needed larger engines but didn’t have enough ground clearance for them. That led to a series of compromises which skewed the balance of the aircraft, thus requiring MCAS to prevent a potential stall.
Do some research and reading before just posting generics and blaming the poor pilots!

KP

Hey Silv, did they stall? Did they come close to a stall? Did they recognize that they weren’t stalling and the issue was with MCAS giving bad data? So why didn’t they throttle back? 250kts is pretty fast below 5000ft of altitude — So if you were a PILOT and fighting an aircraft — you gonna keep accelerating the aircraft BEYOND safe speed and say its ALL the MCAS fault? Next – do some reading and learn – i SAID maybe turn off the MCAS and let the pilots GET BLAMED like with Airbus — the speed was a CONTRIBUTING… Read more »

Nigel

Hey Silv, it looks like certain people don’t realize that: – The A320 wing sits higher above the ground than the 737 wing, so that a larger engine will fit comfortably below an A320 wing without having to be moved forward and upward (which was necessary on the MAX). – When the nose of an aircraft is pointed down (by MCAS, for example), there’s this thing called gravity that will accelerate the aircraft. When relatively near the ground (as is the case during climb-out), this tends to result in the plane hitting the ground. Maybe gravity works differently in the… Read more »

KP

By the way, Ryanair decided to keep the 737-800 as their only jet to keep costs down, that’s why they make money while how many Airbus using airlines in Europe has gone toes up this year. You can say the A320 and A321 are the same but they aren’t. Again, those airlines with “all their eggs in one basket” are the ones growing even though they charge less (the whole ultra LCC concept). Southwest is in a position of needing airplanes desperately and Ryanair, masters of deception to get press coverage and get a better bargain.

Nigel

All true. But you can’t make much of a profit from a plane that doesn’t fly, or that people won’t fly on.

KP

You think that plane is going to be grounded for much longer? Or that the public that wants the lowest ticket price is gonna care who fly’s what? Most flyers would not know an A320 from a B737 let alone a MAX from a NG but even with 2 crashes that the media made into a spectacle, the MAX will fly again, it had thousands of flights, i say turn of the MCAS and let the pilots fly it and if it crashes, their error again like Airbus claims when their planes crash

KP

Correction—- then the error will be PILOT ERROR just like when an Airbus crashes —– 🙂

Nigel

Wizzair hasn’t gone toes up…and it’s an all-Airbus airline.
The same applies to Vueling.

KP

Vueling is owned IAG so it isn’t a stand-alone airline. Wizz air is making a profit but according to the fleet they have 113 and until recently stayed with the A320 only, so they didn’t diversify their eggs-in-the-basket. Being said, you really want to put Wizz up against Ryanair or Southwest for sustainability? The point of the argument was simple, those guys know what the heck they are doing and they picked Boeing for a reason, the planes aren’t junk. Everytime an A320 crashes — we dont jump up in arms and scream “GROUND EM” and JUNK EM

Caroline

EasyJet has not gone toes up ,quite the opposite actually ‘despite Brexit chaos)and its fleet is composed of almost 100% Airbus Aircrafts.
AS for RyanAir, i don’t think they ll switch to Airbus except through LaudaAir.I think they ll get other Boeing models if they do market research and find out that their European passengers would rather not fly on the Max series even after the fix. We ll see .

Nigel

What other Boeing models did you have in mind?
I don’t know if Boeing will keep producing the 737NG. And I don’t know if Ryanair want to start using widebodies. So they’re more-or-less stuck with the 737MAX, if they want to stay all-Boeing. That’s also the problem that Southwest have.
On the general mixed fleet discussion: Alaska (previously an all-Boeing carrier) are doing just fine after acquiring the Virgin America fleet (Airbuses).

KP

Those Airbus aircraft are almost all on lease, lets see if Alaska keeps em when the lease runs out or orders any new ones. And the “STUCK” comment, any airline is STUCK with the aircraft they selected, changing fleet types to Ryanair or Southwest would be BILLIONS of dollars, Southwest does operate different models of the B737NG and MAX. Its not like they bought a Airbus A380 and got stuck with it — oops, different subject there.

oliver

Really interesting

BobT

I believe Boeing’s rush to market of an inherently unstable aircraft (needs MCAS to have proper stability – it’s like producing a car that wants to always veer sharply left, and it needs special software to keep it from doing that — great design) is outright criminal. YES, Southwest — buy Airbus!!

TT

If all of you want to get on an airplane with a 29 year old with 106 hours of MAX flying time training a 22 year old with 50 hours of MAX flying time, I hope you are flying in an environment that doesn’t have any obstructions that might make them actually fly the airplane otherwise good luck! The MAX is a brilliant airplane.

Nigel

Both of those pilots were qualified, and had the necessary certifications to fly the MAX. Do you think that airlines in other countries (including the USA) don’t have young pilots? What do you think pilots do between the ages of 20 and 40…stay on the ground and help gate staff? How else can you build up flight hours other than by flying? And seeing as Boeing didn’t recommend any simulator training for the MAX compared to the NG, how else do you expect these pilots to prepare for an airplane that wants to crash itself? Do cars manufactured in the… Read more »

KP

NIgel, its called Stocks. How did Airbus stock respond when they announced the A380 was being cancelled early? How did Airbus stock respond when they had issues with the A350 launch being delayed? Just curious, did you look at Airbus stock when that Air France A330 pancaked into the ocean due to a faulty piece of machinery? Its funny, Lufthansa, A German Airline, has stated they have confidence in the MAX and will be ordering them soon. By the way, Did Airbus recommend simulator training for the NEO replacement for the CEO? Really hope that A321 that American Airlines had… Read more »

KP

Oh, and no we don’t require F1 drivers on our road as i am sure you don’t either. However, if a local driver starting sliding on a wet road and HAMMERED the gas and held it till the crash, you would say — its the CAR’S FAULT 100% right?

Alec Slaby

Southwest operated a handful of 727s back in the 80s

HA pilot

They can just buy Hawaiian, and make it as separate operator, but same holdings company.
A220 will bleed more money and shareholders won’t like that.

If SW buys HA, all the inter-island operation will be owned and operated by SW, and all the code shared companies at current market have to pay extra $$ to sw to keep the code sharing. But it only works as separate operator.

Miltom

Would not the E-Jet 195-E2 be an option? Embraer is now owned by Boeing.

Replicant

Well karma is a bad lady. Boeing tried to bankrupt Bombardier by falsely accusing them and having the federal government impose a massive tax which was later ruled in Bombardier’s favor. But the harm was done and Bombardier had to almost give away its baby for it to have a future. Airbus happily stepped in and picked up the cseries for nothing in exchange for a majority stake and the promise of building the planes in its Mobile plant. Boeing singlehandedly put the cseries which is undoubtedly the best new clean sheet design single aisle aircraft in the hands of… Read more »

KP

“Falsely accusing them of dumping” — when you sell a JET for less than it costs to build it, its called dumping. It makes sense to sell a jet at a large discount but BELOW the cost of making it. It wasn’t a false accusation, nobody denied they were doing it, not Delta and not Bombardier, they just didn’t like getting caught doing something ILLEGAL. If the miscalculation that will haunt Boeing is letting the CS series go to Airbus, might want to reconsider, they did the same with Embraer and they are selling quite well

Replicant

Please check your facts https://www.google.ca/amp/s/mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN1FF2MB

Did you not hear that Boeing is buying Embraer? Why do you think if not to compete with Airbus and cseries? I know you sre a Boeing fanboy and I will think of you when Boeing hires engineers in Brazil for the NMA.

KP

Hey NIGEL — your arguments are really funny — you said the MAX has its engine moved forward that wants to bring the nose down — its Funny cause the MCAS is pushing the nose down – not raising it — remember the problem!! Second — the engines were running at near maximum thrust for the ENTIRE flight — now do you think that could cause SPEED ISSUES — you are not just an AIrbus FAN — but a total MORON

Philippe Cauchi

Not a single US airlines should fly aircraft others than Boeing or McDonnell Douglas.

I wish SouthWest will stick to remain an All Boeing Fleet Airlines.

Rodge Marsh

Philippe – I guess you will never leave the US to visit other countries given your narrow mindedness. McDonnell Douglas does not even really exist anymore so you are limiting all purchases to one company. Fly on a A350 vs. a 787 and you will see how good Airbus has become.

Rodge Marsh

KP – Stop accusing others of being Airbus fans with almost every post. You are one of the most biased people I have ever seen on any forum. Maybe if you flew on an Airbus product, you might realise they are all good products that work well with almost all airlines. People like you take any fun or interest out of following forums like this with your ‘attacks’ on anyone in favor of Airbus or other providers.

home run baker

If Southwest switches to Airbus planes neither I nor any of my family will ever fly Southwest again!!!!