According to Business Week, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly suggested yesterday that the airline is looking at 2013 as the year it plans to begin aggressive fleet expansion, electing to only replace aging planes for the time being.
Southwest, which only operates Boeing 737s, recently approved orders for the longer range 737-800 but those orders were converted from existing 737-700 orders which the airline had already placed. Currently, Southwest has 552 737s but the airline has been suggesting recently that it will be looking to expand its fleet in the coming years as it looks to use its steady stream of profit to add more planes and routes.
Southwest has also alluded in recent months that it may look to other planes, possibly from Boeing’s competitor, Airbus, when it does decide to expand. Such a decision would be a major blow for Boeing who has steadily supplied Southwest Airlines for nearly 40 years.
Like many airlines, Southwest is also waiting to see whether Boeing plans to revamp the current 737 like Airbus is doing with the new A320neo set to arrive in 2016, or build a brand new plane altogether. Either option would likely be attractive to Southwest as both would provide better fuel efficiency over the current line of 737s offered by Boeing but Kelly has expressed frustrations in the past over Boeing’s lack of guidance on the 737. He reiterated those frustrations yesterday.
Southwest will “wait for an answer this year” as Boeing decides whether to upgrade the 737 with more fuel-efficient engines or design a new plane to succeed the model that is the world’s most widely flown jetliner, Kelly said.
“They are not moving fast enough for Southwest,” Kelly said. “I’ve read all kind of things from Boeing. It’s all over the map. I’m not paying attention to anything that I read, other than what I hear from the CEO.”
Boeing hasn’t made an official announcement regarding the future of the 737 but has suggested that a decision will come this year with an announcement coming as soon as June’s Paris Airshow.