Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Southwest Airlines looks to the future and new narrow body aircraft

Southwest Airlines is "anxious to have some answers this year" regarding a narrowbody replacement, Chairman, President and CEO Gary Kelly said Tuesday (March 22, 2011) at the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation and Defense Conference in New York, available via webcast.

"It remains to be seen where the aerospace industry is headed in terms of optimizing the size of a narrowbody aircraft, and we're very interested to see where that settles," Kelly said. "What is inevitable is that the next-generation aircraft for Southwest Airlines … may very well be a different airplane, whether it’s Boeing, whether it’s Airbus or whether it’s Bombardier … We don't want eight different airplanes but I think we can handle two or three."

The carrier, which expects to close its acquisition of AirTran Airways in the first half of the year, noted that seniority integration of the two airlines will take some months, and "probably will" extend into 2012, but that it has no plans to change AirTran's network. "We have no plans to close any cities, we have no plans to add any cities," Kelly said, adding that SWA is "excited" about the 717 aircraft type that AirTran will bring to the group. "It's a good short-haul airplane," Kelly said. "The bigger question there is, What's the next-generation 717 solution? And we don't have an answer yet."

Kelly revealed that SWA has had six fare increases so far this year. “That’s a lot in 90 days,” he said, noting that the airline has, at the same time, seen very strong demand and will retain its existing plan to increase capacity 5%-6% this year, excluding the pending acquisition of AirTran.

(Christine Boynton - ATWOnline News)

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