Boeing doesn’t want any extra dangerous information, from groundings to lawsuits. And simply because the 737MAX began trickling again to work, United, Japan Airways and others pulled Boeing 777s out of service as a result of an engine failure over Colorado.

But there’s more. One of Boeing’s most loyal customers is considering a competitive product. Southwest Airways is claimed to be evaluating the Airbus A220-300 in opposition to the Boeing 737 MAX7.

Boeing and Southwest return a great distance. Southwest has by far been Boeing’s largest buyer for the venerable 737, which first flew in April 1967. The first Southwest 737 flight was simply 4 years later, on June 18, 1971.

(Full disclosure: I personal inventory in American Airways, JetBlue and Southwest.)

Southwest has operated over 1050 Boeing 737 plane since that June day 50 years in the past. In response to the identical estimate, Southwest is at present flying a complete of 602 737s (together with 737-700, 737-800 and 737 MAX plane), with 130 nonetheless parked by the pandemic.

The lengthy partnership was useful for each corporations. For Boeing, the Southwest relationship meant billions of {dollars} in gross sales of plane, spare components, upgrades, coaching, and different providers. For Southwest, working an all-Boeing 737 fleet meant every kind of potential economies. Pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and others might all theoretically work on any plane. Familiarity bred effectivity and a commonality of components and coaching supplied additional economies. The plane have been sturdy and match Southwest’s fast turnaround mannequin, flying an average of over 5 flights or simply over 11 hours per day as of 2019.

Southwest Airways is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021. Virtually each considered one of its tens of millions of flights (4000 a day in 2019) has been by a Boeing 737 variant.

However 1971 was a very long time in the past, and the wants of airline change in a post-pandemic world. Loyalty can be a two-way avenue, and a few speculate that the disastrous 737MAX scenario soured the connection.

Just below 500 of Southwest’s fleet are 737-700 fashions. These are the oldest plane Southwest operates, and the smallest, with 143 seats. (Each the 737-800 and the newer 737 Max Eight are configured for 175 seats.)

Southwest has been reportedly evaluating the Airbus A220-300, which might seat from 130 to145, as a substitute for the getting old 737-700. The Airbus A220-300 was initially designed and constructed by Canada’s Bombardier, till the road was bought by Airbus and renamed in response to the Airbus “A” nomenclature.

As Airbus places it, “the A220-300 was particularly designed and purpose-built for the 120-160 seat market.” The airplane offers a cruise velocity of 447 knots, and a spread of 3300 nautical miles, greater than sufficient to fly Southwest’s routes from California to Hawaii, in addition to its 800-mile hops across the U.S. Greater than 400 orders for the airplane have been booked, together with 60 A220-300s ordered by Southwest rival JetBlue in 2018.

The producer claims the A220-300 gives decrease seat-mile prices in addition to decrease CO2 emissions. The plane is six tonnes lighter than the Airbus A319neo and saves as much as 20% of the gas prices over that airplane. With a most take-off weight (MTOW) of 149,900 kilos, the A220-300 can be lighter than the 153-seat Boeing 737 MAX 7. The smallest MAX has an MTOW of 177,000 kilos.

Oil costs have been rising because the financial system’s “reopening” is anticipated. In a post-pandemic world, much less could also be extra, when it comes to each gas financial system and simply filling planes with vaccinated passengers. In contrast to the various parked A380s and other widebody aircraft, ‘right-sized’ (and right-priced) planes just like the $91 million A220-300 are in demand.

So the A220-300 would possibly make sense for Southwest. However would the airline make the leap and step outdoors its Boeing protected area?

A minimum of way back to 2019, aviation pundits have been speculating a couple of Southwest transfer away from ‘single-sourcing’ their plane. Southwest CEO Kelly has been described as “indignant with Boeing” over the 737 MAX debacle. Extra importantly, “Kelly, together with American Airways officers, are adamant that Boeing must pay for the ~$1bn in damages the 2 airways declare they’ve suffered from the MAX grounding.”

However the hypothesis has picked up not too long ago. Southwest Airways is in talks to buy at least 300 new 150-seat jets for its fleet. The marketing campaign “would pit Boeing’s 737 MAX 7 and Airbus ‘A220-300 planes in head-to-head competitors…to interchange Southwest’s getting old fleet of 737-700s.”

Southwest testing of rival plane has beforehand been portrayed as a option to achieve leverage over Boeing in negotiations. However for the reason that painful grounding of the 737 MAX (Southwest ordered 280 of the star-crossed plane) AirInsight described the potential change as “karma.” As in dangerous karma for Boeing going again to the 2011 launch of the MAX line. “MAX turned out to be the product of one thing like a shotgun marriage. Conceived in haste and developed with every kind of constraints, however particularly time, because it was a response to the A320neo.”

The dangerous karma continued, in response to AirInsight, after Delta ordered as much as 125 plane from Bombardier, the unique producers of the C Collection, together with what’s now known as the A220-300. “Boeing accused Bombardier of dumping and filed a criticism with the US authorities. Bombardier was slapped with enormous dumping duties,” pushing the Canadian producer “to the brink.” Finally, the “crown jewel” of Bombardier, the C Collection, was offered to Airbus for beneath $600 million.

Extra dangerous karma got here with two MAX crashes with almost 350 fatalities. The MAX was grounded for 20 months. Boeing acquired a blow to its repute, allegedly leading to an “70% low cost IAG bought on its 2019 MAX order on the Paris air present.”

Karma or no, can Boeing nonetheless compete for future Southwest enterprise? The corporate stays a world chief in plane improvement. Southwest pilots are all skilled on Boeing plane, whereas Airbus A220-300 manufacturing could also be too low to satisfy demand. And “Boeing’s pricing energy is prodigious.” as AirInsight put it. However now, “airways face a unique world. A world the place hundreds are lighter, stay under breakeven and look to remain that manner for a while, maybe till 2023.” How a lot would—or might—Boeing decrease costs to influence Southwest to take extra 737MAX plane?

A Southwest change stays hypothesis. However within the wake of the pandemic, even the coziest of relationships will come beneath scrutiny.

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