An article in The Wall Street Journal today discusses the possibility of Southwest Airlines adding new aircraft to its fleet that are not made by Boeing.
According to the article, Southwest, which is the largest operator of the 737 with nearly 550 of the aircraft in its 737-exclusive fleet, may be open to using different aircraft from different manufacturers, presumably Airbus or Bombardier, adding pressure on Boeing to make a decision on the popular aircraft’s future.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly commented during the company’s fourth quarter post-earnings call on whether the company would be open to using aircraft not made by Boeing.
Kelly said Southwest can manage “multiple fleet types”, fueling speculation that Airbus and Bombardier Inc. (BDRBF, BBD.A.T) may have an opportunity to pitch for its business.
Boeing had planned to make a decision on the future of its best-seller by the end of last year, but that has slipped despite rival Airbus going ahead with a re-engined version of its competing A320 family that offers lower fuel costs and lower emissions.
Boeing’s indecision on whether to upgrade the 737 or start from scratch with a new model has caused some frustration from other carriers in recent months. Earlier this week, Delta CEO Richard Anderson hinted that Boeing needed to update its 737 if it wanted to be apart of Delta’s plan to order up to 400 narrow body aircraft sometime in 2011.
For the immediate future, Boeing is focusing on increasing production rates for the 737 which rose to nearly one per day in 2010. Such demand will certainly help Boeing’s bottom line for quite some time but with major carriers mulling large orders for more efficient narrow-body planes in the not-to-distant future, Boeing will be forced to make a decision sooner rather than later on what to do with its most popular plane.