Thursday, September 28, 2017

What happens to old planes? Southwest Airlines is retiring 30 of its fleet's 'Classics'

Boeing 737-3H4 (27689/2667) N395SW and Boeing 737-3H4 (27378/2643) N391SW parked at Southern California Logistics Airport (VCV/KVCV) on August 15, 2017 following their retirement from the Southwest Airlines fleet.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

At 11:35 p.m. Friday evening, Southwest Airlines Flight 68 is scheduled to arrive in Dallas from Houston, the aircraft’s last flight before being retired from Southwest’s fleet and parked in the California desert.

While Southwest regularly retires aircraft, this send-off will be particularly notable, as the Dallas-based carrier prepares to say goodbye to the last of its Boeing 737-300s, also known as the “Classics.” It will be one of 30 Classics retired Friday.

The aircraft model has been a part of Southwest’s fleet for 33 years, seeing the company through decades of growth. But with a new, more efficient generation of planes soon to join Southwest’s fleet, the carrier is retiring the Classics, in part to simplify training for pilots.

“It was an exceptional airplane for the short-haul market,” said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s chief operating officer. “It allowed us to grow our network for literally the next 20-30 years.”

With the new aircraft, the 737 Max, set to launch Oct. 1, Southwest’s fleet transactions team has been on a retiring spree, taking 58 out of service since August.

Most of those aircraft have made their way to the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville.

They will be left intact, unlike some aircraft that get broken down for spare parts, including engines, upon retirement. Southwest hopes the aircraft won't be parked in the desert for long, and is actively marketing the jets for sale.

“It’s going to be in a state where we could sell it to someone and they could turn around and fly it,” said Jon Stephens, the airline's director of fleet transactions. “Our thinking is it's a short-term storage program ... our intent to find buyers and homes for these aircraft.”

Southwest has already sold a few of its 737-300s, although it hasn’t disclosed the buyers.

U.S. airlines often look to sell their retiring aircraft in other countries to avoid giving a domestic rival more capacity to grow, but that’s not always the case.

Southwest flipped 88 Boeing 717s acquired through its purchase of AirTran Airways to Delta Air Lines in a 2012 subleasing agreement.

The South American market would be one likely destination for the retiring jets, said industry analyst Henry Harteveldt, for “either a low-cost airline or a startup that’s looking for a reliable but low-cost aircraft.” Other options could be found in Asia, or in non-passenger service operations, like freight.

“There’s almost always someone who’s out there to buy it,” Harteveldt said. “A big factor is how many airplanes there are, what price and what condition.”

(Conor Shine - The Dallas Morning News)

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