CEO of Southwest Airlines, Gary Kelly, has spoken about how keen he is to see the Boeing 737 MAX back in service. However, its re-entry into revenue operations won’t be rushed, as the airline is planning to train every single one of its pilots to fly the type, before it begins flying passengers.
Looking forward to the MAX
The 737 MAX is edging ever closer to being recertified for passenger service. For its biggest operator, Southwest, getting the type back into service will be a cause for celebration. Speaking at an Aviation Week webinar, CEO of Southwest Gary Kelly was enthusiastic about the aircraft’s ungrounding. He said,
“We are looking forward to it for a variety of reasons. It is a more cost-effective airplane to fly relative to especially our older -700s. It’s rumored that it’s going to be ungrounded this week so, fingers crossed. We’ve been here before, but as time has gone by, it’s closer and closer and closer, so I’m expecting the grounding to be pretty soon.”
Some have pegged the day for authorization to fly to tomorrow. Others are less certain. Only the FAA will know for sure how much longer airlines will have to wait to fly their MAX. However, there’s still a lot to do before any of them will begin flying passengers.
Training every pilot
As the impending ungrounding edges closer, some operators of the Boeing 737 MAX have already started making plans to return the type to service. For Southwest, however, there’s no great rush. The airline has already said it will take some time to get all its aircraft in a revenue-worthy condition. Now, Kelly has also revealed that it plans to retrain every single one of its pilots before the MAX takes to the skies. He said,
“Every pilot will be trained on the MAX before we’ll have a revenue flight. So, that will be very different to our competitors. They may be flying the max sooner than us, and at this point I don’t see that as a race. It’s not a competitive issue one way or the other.”
Right now, Southwest is not in a hurry for its 737 MAX. That’s a very different situation to how things were when the aircraft was grounded, as the airline was struggling to grow its Hawaii services and was forced to retain older aircraft as its MAX were unusable. However, now Kelly says the airline has around 200 excess aircraft and is not in a rush to get the MAX back in service.
“It’s not like we need additional lift. We’ll be well into 2021 before we’re in revenue service, and I’m looking forward to that, I can assure you. But we’re very well prepared. We’ve got a fully up communication plan, we’ve got a training plan, and we’re getting close to the point where we’re going to get an opportunity to execute all that.”
Kelly did not elaborate on his reason for wanting every pilot trained to fly the MAX before it entered revenue service. Likely it could be down to maintaining a slick operation, and being able to swap equipment in and out without disruption to crews. As well as that, it could be a more symbolic gesture, to regain the trust of pilots and crew, and to make a statement to the flying public.
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What about those white tails?
While Kelly is eagerly awaiting more MAX aircraft and the ungrounding of the 34 it has parked up right now, rumors have been floating around regarding a deal for more 737 MAX. Specifically, it was said that the airline was in talks with Boeing over so-called ‘white tails’ – MAX that have been built and completed, but for which the buyer has now pulled out.
Kelly confirmed that the airline was in talks about Boeing, but not just about white tails. He said conversations are going on about all sorts of things, one of which was indeed those MAX which have had their orders canceled. However, he was clear that adding aircraft to the fleet is not something he is considering now.
“Sure, we’re talking to Boeing about all of those things. Do we need to increase our fleet right now? No, and that’s not that’s not what our focus is. What we are talking to Boeing about is, as we refresh our fleet, over the next several years and then over the next generation, what’s, in our best interest in terms of how we approach that.”
So it seems Boeing is still in a position of no takers when it comes to the canceled orders for the MAX. For Gary Kelly, a good deal is a good deal, and one which he could be swayed upon, but in terms of adding more aircraft to the fleet right now, he says it is out of the question,
“That would be crazy. We’re not thinking about that at all.”