Southwest Chairman, President and CEO Gary Kelly is continuing his speculation about the next step for the carrier’s narrowbody fleet. Of course, it also could be frustration or public negotiating. Most likely, it is some of all three.
Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Aviation, Transportation and Defense Conference today, Kelly said Southwest remains “anxious for a solution” for replacements for its 737s. Boeing seems to be leaning away from re-engining the 737, but Kelly reiterated comments he has made previously that 10 years would be a long time to wait for delivery of a next-generation 737.
“We need a solution sooner rather than later,” Kelly said. “Ten years is a long time to wait.” But Kelly also noted that a lot of unanswered questions remain about the future for narrowbody replacements, including what size they will be and whether a twin-aisle will be part of the mix. Kelly emphasized that he does not know enough about the twin-aisle concept yet, and for which size narrowbody it might make sense, but added that Southwest executives are “open to those kinds of discussions.”
Kelly made it a point to note that Southwest has options other than Boeing, even though the airline strives for a simplified fleet and only just now is adding a second fleet type with the 717s it would have if its acquisition of AirTran goes through.
“The next-generation aircraft for Southwest Airlines, no matter the source, may very well be a different airplane, whether its Boeing, Airbus or Bombardier,” he said. When an analyst, at the tail end of a question, almost casually mentioned that Bombardier’s CSeries might be an alternative to Boeing and Airbus, Kelly was quick to chime in: “Absolutely.”
Kelly also noted that Southwest eventually would need a replacement for the 717s it would acquire in the AirTran deal. “It’s not our most pressing fleet question, but one we would need to answer,” he said.
I should note here that many industry observers still refuse to believe Southwest will keep the 717 long term, but Kelly continues to insist it has a lot of appeal for Southwest in enabling it to serve smaller communities.