Southwest Airlines considering to become an Airbus operator

Southwest Airlines in the United States had been known to be an all-Boeing operator with 421 Boeing 737 jets currently operating in their fleet. However, things may change as the US low-cost carrier is flirting once again with the idea of acquiring Airbus A220 jets to replace some of its Boeing 737-700.

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Way before the Covid-19 pandemic, Southwest had already floated the idea of operating another type of aircraft following the ground of the 737 MAX. Southwest currently has 250 orders of the 737 MAX with 34 in its fleet.

The idea of acquiring possibly the A220 was halted amid the Covid-19 pandemic until the company's 3rd quarter earnings call.

The need for a plane smaller than the 737-700

In a report from FlightGlobal, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly during the earnings call said, "If there were ever a scenario for us to consider making a change in aircraft, it would be now, because we’re not desperate to grow the airline, and may not be for a long time. We absolutely do need the smaller airplane. We have a ton of 737-700s that are coming up for retirement in the next several years.”

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Out of the 421 737-700s, more than 60 of them are at least 20 years old and 72 of them are in storage. Waiting for the 737 MAX 7 in which Southwest has 28 of them in order may be too long. The airline was supposed to get its very first 737 MAX 7 in 2019 but was deferred to 2023 - 2024

Boeing 737 versus Airbus A220

Come to think of it, the Airbus A220 series is Airbus' smallest variant, originally the Bombardier C-series which the former acquired the program in 2018. The aircraft first flew in 2013 and took its first commercial flight in 2016. 

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Unlike the more modern and newly clean-sheet designed A220, the 737-700 and even the 737 MAX 7 is based on a design which dates back in the 1960s. The 737-100, the very first variant took its first commercial in 1968.

The Airbus A220 is also more fuel efficient than the 737-700 and can be configured to hold up to 150 seats, versus that of the 737-700 which can take 170 seats. The A220 are also becoming a popular aircraft for short haul flights, and for Southwest, this would mean flights less than 100 minutes.

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Both aircraft also have a similar range 6,300kms however, the effects of the pandemic has had airlines heavily consider economics, performance, passenger comfort, and flexibility.

Efficiency and profitability

After incurring a loss of $1.2 billion as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, efficiency and profitability are the priorities of Southwest Airlines. According to the airline's chief financial officer Tammy Romo, "We will need a smaller aircraft to fly shorter to medium-haul markets, and we will make sure that we have economics that will serve us well.

“We have long been an all-Boeing carrier and there are certainly efficiencies that come with that. All that will be factored into that evaluation,” she added.

Single-manufacturer is best?

Most low-cost airlines use a single-manufacturer strategy to be able to maintain efficiency and lower operating costs however, will the same still work for Southwest Airlines?

In the case of Southwest, the airline has operated different variants and generations of the 737 all together which meant different training, parts, support, and maintenance. In fact at one point, Southwest has operated all three 737-200, 737-300/500, and 737-700 variants. This meant operating 737s from different generations.

Airbus should make a fleet decision by next year.

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