Southwest Airlines Board Could Consider Airbus – Why That Matters

We recently asked the question “could Southwest Airlines ever operate an Airbus aircraft?” Well, it seems we are a little closer to answering the question. During the airline’s third-quarter earnings call on Oct 24th, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly confirmed that the board had directed him to look at aircraft other than the Boeing 737. Without naming it specifically, many know that the main alternative would be Airbus.

southwest-hawaii-roll-out-pace
Southwest is the largest operator of 737 MAX aircraft in the country. Photo: Southwest Airlines.

We’ve covered this topic several times – the possibility of Southwest operating Airbus aircraft. As the Boeing 737 MAX crisis drags on and timeline-uncertainty grows, the possibility grows as well. We know the search is getting more serious because it was stated in this week’s earnings report.

During the earnings call, CEO Gary Kelly said the following in response to a question about comments he made on CNBC:

“The comment that I made about evaluating the question in a single fleet type is — that’s not new news. I’ve shared that before and we’ve done it. We looked at it very carefully on several occasions. Mike lead that effort as late as 2011 when we agreed to launch the MAX. We have a very serious look to an alternative.”

Of course, Kelly went on to give more detail about this, discussing the tremendous benefits having a single fleet type has brought to the airline. This, he says, includes “a more reliable and arguably safer operation” due to the expertise in one aircraft. Furthermore, Southwest is famously loyal to Boeing and the 737. It is well known that no airline would ever pay a lower price for a Boeing 737 than Southwest as per a “handshake agreement.”

Below, he makes it clear why a single fleet type has its advantages:

“We’ve been extremely successful for 48 years with a single fleet type. I know that our Vice President of Flight Operations would agree. It certainly makes for a more reliable and arguably safer operation when we have, the expertise that we do in this year one. So there are plenty of good arguments for, just I really feel like it’s just acknowledging the obvious and I feel like we have a duty to look at the question. And especially in light of what’s going on right now.”

Gary Kelly concludes his answer by making clear that introducing a second type of aircraft to the fleet is not happening anytime soon. In fact, Kelly ends his response by saying “we’re not entertaining this question today”.

Southwest Airlines MAX nose
Southwest Airlines still has hundreds of 737 MAX aircraft on order. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Why this matters

Southwest is one of the most loyal all-Boeing airlines out there. The low-cost carrier has been using an all-737 fleet since the very beginning – except for a brief period of time when 727s are also used. For an airline as loyal to Boeing as Southwest to consider an alternative manufacturer is a strong signal of non-confidence in the 737 MAX. In fact, Southwest has invested billions in these jets.

There were rumors earlier this year that Southwest was looking at Airbus aircraft, specifically, the A220. The new and highly fuel-efficient A220 does not directly compete with the Boeing 737. However, the Airbus A320ceo and next-generation Airbus A320neo are tailored to compete directly with the 737.

Airbus A320
Southwest would be making a very strong statement by adding Airbus aircraft to its fleet. Photo: Airbus

Conclusion

In conclusion, the latest comments from the earnings call demonstrate that non-Boeing jets are not completely off the table. However, Southwest’s CEO also makes it clear that this won’t be happening anytime soon. Obviously, they’re still optimistic that the 737 MAX will take to the skies in the near future.

Should Southwest hold out hope for the 737 MAX or start making fleet changes as soon as possible? Let us know by leaving a comment!

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Andy

Sometimes it’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket..!

K.P.

Hmmm. Lets see, Southwest , making lots of money, Ryanair, making money, Spirit Airlines and Easyjet, making money — there might be just something to this, call me crazy. Oh lets not forget Wizz air or we could look at those LCC’s with lots of different jets and making profits…….. trying hard to think of one still in business

Hone kingi

737 will krash again. Going, boeing. Toeing to the junkyard… Hone

K.P.

Please, hold your breath till Southwest buys new Airbus aircraft. Keep drinking your Airbus Kool-Aid and dreaming for it but Mr Kelly knows more about running an airline and he still supports that 737 so have a nice day

Matt

They won’t buy Airbus aircraft, but will use Airbus bids to get a better price from Boeing. It’s the same thing O’Leary does at Ryanair. Southwest will buy 737s until Boeing stops making them.

Gerry Stumpe

Hold on there Hone Kingi. Others are saying that this venue is anti-Boeing. I do not believe so. However, you certainly seem so. What a morbid thing to say that another Boeing will crash soon. Shame on you.

Parimal

Existing B737 NG too has developed cracks due to which they are grounded. Third class Boeing B737crax and B787 Cheapliner are not fit even for driving on roads, let alone flying. Seems only when B737crax crashes on FAA office, will some action taken against Boeing.

Remy

Why is everyone so optimistic on the return of the 737 MAX? Wouldn’t it be a possibility that this plane will never fly again?

Christian

Boeing has too much invested in the MAX for it to never fly again. While the events that lead up to this point are tragic to say the least, I think it is in their best interest to get i right this time

K.P.

Yah, new jets shouldn’t require correct maintenance or crews that know what to do in an emergency.

Matt

It helps if the crew is trained properly for the aircraft KP. The Boeing eLearning on the iPad wasn’t proper training and that was all Boeing.

Gerry Stumpe

Well said.

Roy Mercer

Too late, sorry….time is up on the 737. If Southwest goes for the A220 or A220 stretch, the tide has turned on the 737. It is finished.

Gerry Stumpe

Did you not read Matt’s comment?

Bernie

The only hope may be a 50% discount on tickets.

mstuedel

There are smarter ways: Offer a $ 20 option to opt out of a flight based on aircraft type, the type attributed to the selected flight only to be communicated after this choice.
For all those who feel unsafe subjectively, it would be a small price to pay for safety. For the airlines, it would give an indication on how confident the public is with the Max plus they could earn money even on bookings they didn’t intend to cover with B737 Max.

Gerry Stumpe

Well said.

Jim P

I think it will fly again. However, I’m not sure the plane will ever overcome the bad publicity to date, and it’s lifespan will be shorter than normal relatively speaking. I think Boeing has to start work NOW on a replacement for the MAX. Something like a 757X or 767X. WN needs seating capacity.

In-Frequent Flyer

797?

Gerry Stumpe

So true.

Luke Vader

The next few months will be critical. If Boeing can get the 737 MAX recertified and up/flying again by Jan 2020, and if there are no more safety-of-flight issues that occur, the public will *eventually* come to accept it again. No one worries any more about lithium battery fires (causing a disaster) while flying on a 787. Yes, the MCAS issue is worse than the lithium-battery issue, but the general point is that people forget over time, and that everyone suffers from recency bias.

JackFlash

Lithium battery overheating was fixable. Basic design flaw in 737Max is not. Two fatal crashes of a brand new aircraft created enormous distrust, and the coverup made it worse.

K.P.

HEY JACK – read the new, the MAX was set up by our friends at Lion Air and Ethopian, notice both are showing maintenance records tampered with or MISSING — why is that? UH, maybe that’s why the airlines who flew more MAX’s than anyone else didn’t have a problem with the killer plane? IF IT WAS THAT BAD, don’t you think it would have showed up EVERYWHERE? Drink some more AIRBUS KOOL-AID

Richard Allison

It did show up everywhere MCAS had issues with all airlines which were never investigated

jovahn

well if the Boeing 737 MAX fails there is always the Boeing 777-8/9

K.P.

Really, where in the US ? Haven’t seen one report for it, everybody upset , of course the $100 million USD lawsuits make it a problem , but before the ground , where is there found 1 REPORT of MCAS issue in the Southwest, American, Spicejet, FlyDubai ?? Cause i can’t find a single one. If an airliner does a nosedive in the USA, its gonna get investigated, even if resolved quickly in the air so could you let me know where some of those MCAS issues are?

Matt

A couple Southwest pilot’s had issues. I’m not going to look for it, but feel free to look through the countless articles from the time of those crashes. It was stated many times.

Roy Mercer

Not a possibility, more like a PROBABILITY. The 737 is doomed, its time has come and gone. Now old technology pushed too far, the A220 is the “new” 737, a game-changer.

K.P.

Your new Game-changer is having engine issues or haven’t you read that. They hope its a software issue but since its not a Boeing — its okay to fly

mstuedel

C220 Engine issues concern Pratt & Whittney engines on Bombardier produced airplanes only. The Safron/GE engines work fine. Until P&W have fixed it, it’s a supply chain issue that will slow down production. To compare this with the Max design issues is ludicrous.

mstuedel

It’s certainly not OK to fly. Swiss has grounded their fleet to check and fix the issue.

Bernie

Why has the corroded ‘pickle fork’ wing modification not been mentioned … and why was it required ?

Gerry Stumpe

Not in a million years Remy. The problem will be fixed. Good old American ingenuity always prevail.

Darl

The dc-10 killed far more people than the max. It went on to become one of the safest aircraft of all time. The difference is the internet had it existed in the seventies the dc 10 may have never flown again. I have worked on the 737 for 30 years. I would put my family TODAY on a MAX un updated if it was operated by a western air crew. The design is flawed but not unsafe. Pilot training and maintenance is the blame here any experienced 737 driver can disable a runaway stab in less than 5 seconds .… Read more »

Richard Johnson

Why don’t they look into the Embraer 195s they are almost as big as a 737-700. Embraer is a partner with Boeing now.

Jim P

Embraer has cancelled all developmental work on the E195. They were basically thinking of not doing much other than stretch the fuselage and put in additional seats. Potential customers had difficult questions regarding the resulting reduction in range.

Sam Rittler

I think the A220 is a better fit. It would be much more reliable

K.P.

If they can fix that little engine issue you mean — those are critical to good flight. Yours and mine explanation for reliable might be totally different.

Matt

The new generation engines are having issues across the board. A220, A320neo, A330neo, A350, 777X, 787. The max would too if it was flying. The engine manufacturers are going to have to figure it out.

J Gonzalez

737 Max will fly.

Jim P

If the grounding goes past March, 2020 (1 year anniversary), I don’t see how WN has another choice. Do they just sit and take it on the chin financially for having another Summer travel season with no high-capacity aircraft. WN doesn’t want the MAX in the air because they like the look of the way forward engines. They need the seating capacity with passenger fannies in them. Plus, I doubt that even massive PR will convince passengers that the MAX is a safe airplane. So, FAA ends the grounding with a blessing of the MAX. People are going to listen… Read more »

Dave

While it would be a huge fundamental operational change for Southwest, in light of the fact that Boeing has tragically erred with the Max, they need to explore options. The Max is going to prove even more problematic as time goes by. The aircraft simply is not tall enough to support the larger engines required to lift the size that the fuselage has become. If you look at 737s from previous generations you can see how differently they’ve been mounted to the wings. They can only go so far until they become a serious issue for lift. While the 737… Read more »

K.P.

Well I don’t think they want an Airbus A320neo ! Southwest likes to fill its planes, not leave the back few rows empty due to balance issues.

Gerry Stumpe

Damn K.P. Why are you so anti-Airbus? No matter the discussion it’s always negativity with Airbus with you. Can we keep a level field?

Bizzarodog

The irony is that Southwest deserves at least some (imo not insubstantial) amount of blame for this situation. They have historically pushed boeing to minimize training requirements for updates… Even to the point of recreating old school “steam gauges” on their glass cockpit 737s. Instead of going with a clean sheet design, boeing has stretched the 737 to or beyond its limit to placate these single type LCCs

Pat Murphy

The laziness in not designing a new narrow body is at the root of this. Failing to design a new fuel efficient composite model because the economics dictated that not spending billions on a new design was cheaper compared to the fuel savings etc is what is at I ssue.

jovahn

I think that Southwest will keep operating Boeing 737 thru it won’t be out of the question if they consider the Airbus A220 if the 737 MAX continues to be grounded

In-Frequent Flyer

Time to bring the 797 back to the table.

Alex

Southwest will eventually have to operate an aircraft other than the 737 as given recent events, Boeing would be insane to launch a new family of 737s to replace the MAX when that time comes. They will have learned their lesson and will work on a clean sheet 737 replacement which would give Southwest no choice but to evaluate a Boeing clean sheet design against whatever Airbus offers up

Jack Abbott

The A220 does not directly compete with the 737? Airlines have always competed on the same routes when the size and capacity of their aircraft are different. Seriously, would Southwest really want its 737MAXs to go toe-to-toe against the A220-300s of another airline?

Rezo

მთელი ცხოვრების ოცნება

Pussycato

Please write in a language that EVERYBODY can read !!

Roy Mercer

The 737 as a design is doomed.They have already surpassed its maximum ability for “stretches”. Its time has come and gone. No more tries to make it work just a few more years. Now Boeing will have to pay for its attempts to make the 737 last a bit longer.

Hein Vandenbergh

Southwest wants cheap planes, for cheap fares. Here’s a chance for China with its C919: western engines and electronics, and Airbus has already said their orderbook cannot take a southwest order. What a hoot that would be. Trumpite revisionism…..

Gerry Stumpe

Americans will not fly a Chinese aircraft Hein. I will certainly not.Make mine Airbus or make mine Boeing.If it’s Chinese I just ain’t going.

Percyvall

737 Max is a death trap, 3 accidents is way too many, bye bye Boing!!

Darnell M Sanders

The best thing to do is to add the new Embraer E-170’s and E-190’s to the fleet along with a few used 757’s for their Hawaii flights. Since Boeing is acquiring Embraer, they remain loyal customers while preventing history from repeating itself.

FBWFTW

100% they should get Airbus-more comfortable, likely better fuel economy and better windows than a 737 of any generation. The 737-900/-900ER was the first compromised airplane Boeing built-the Mad Max only worsened that-many -800’s and -900’s loaded full are called “ground grippers” they eat up tons of runway taking off and have higher Vref (or landing) speeds. Don’t believe me? Have a look at PPrune for “737-900 Vref”