Southwest Airlines appears poised to stay an all-Boeing 737 operator after giving the Airbus A220 a close look during the Max grounding.
Speaking at a J.P. Morgan investor conference on Monday, Southwest Chief Financial Officer Tammy Romo said the carrier “continues to believe that there are many advantages to having a single fleet type, including a greater degree of simplicity and efficiency, translating to lower costs,” according to a report on the session. She did note that the A220 was a “viable competitor” to the Boeing 737 Max.
The comments were arguably the least surprising yet among the most momentous at the event. Boeing’s future as a major commercial aircraft manufacturer hangs, at least partially, on the Dallas-based carrier’s pending order for a jet to replace many of the 470 737-700s in its fleet over the next decade. A defection to the A220 by the largest 737 operator in the world would be a huge blow to the planemaker at a time when it is desperate to rebuild its tattered reputation after the 20-month Max grounding.
To be clear, Romo did not commit to an order for the 737-7 at the conference. However, her comments fit with a recent Reuters report that Boeing and Southwest are near a “multibillion-dollar deal” for dozens of the jet.
Southwest reintroduced the Max on March 11 after nearly two years. The 737-8 will fly just 10 routes on any given day until mid-April when the aircraft will begin flying across the airline’s network. Southwest plans to operate 69 737-8s by year-end.
And initial reports indicate travelers are not as wary of the Max as was suggested during the grounding. American Airlines, the first to resume Max flights in the U.S., did not see travelers booking away or changing their flights during the first weeks of service for its 737-8s.
Southwest’s orderbook stood at 249 firm Maxes plus 115 options at the end of 2020. The firm orders included 30 737-7s with the first seven due this year, plus 219 firm 737-8s and 115 options.
The airline confirmed that it was considering the A220-300 and 737-7 for the 140-150 seat segment of its future fleet last October. At the time, Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said they were “looking at both airplanes,” and planned to continue their evaluations. The comments came more than a year after The Air Current broke the news that Southwest executives had visited an A220 operator in Europe to kick “the proverbial tires” on the aircraft.
But in the months since Van de Ven’s comments, the Max was re-certified by the FAA and other global regulators, and Boeing has racked up hundreds of new orders from opportunistic airlines. Alaska Airlines, Ryanair and United Airlines have all made sizable new commitments to the jet — though the airframer remained down 759 orders for the 737 at the end of February.
Snagging an add-on order for the 737-7 from an existing Max customer will not be enough for Boeing to climb out of its hole. Besides its Max problems, Boeing has been plagued with production delays for its 787 widebodies. At a separate panel at the conference, Air Lease Corp. CEO John Plueger urged Boeing to iron out its manufacturing problems, saying the airframer has to “fix its house.”