March 1, 2018, © Leeham Co.: Southwest Airlines needs about 100 more Boeing 737-8s before turning its
attention to the 737-7, CEO Gary Kelly told LNC in a press scrum at the 2018 Aviation Summit today, sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce.
The current fleet of 737-700s won’t see retirements until about 2022, at which time the need for the 7 MAX arises.
Earlier this year, Southwest deferred delivery of 23 of 30 7 MAXs from the next two years until 2023-24.
Kelly, responding to a question from LNC, said he expects that perhaps 60% of the fleet will eventually be the MAX 7. Southwest currently has more than 500 737-700s.
The 7 MAX, which has an advertised range of more than 3,800nm, could become a trans-Atlantic airplane in the distant future.
Over a generation, Southwest could add 500 airplanes to its current fleet of 750. Until a replacement for the 737 is the only choice, Kelly said, though he conceded the carrier will look at the prospective Boeing NMA/797. He also said Southwest looks at all aircraft, including the Bombardier CSeries—but he has no interest in anything but the 737 “as long as I am CEO.”
Kelly is 63, but there is no mandatory retirement age at Southwest and he plans to be around for some time to come.
Kelly said Southwest has the potential to add 50 cities over the next several years, though there won’t be “aggressive” expansion over the next three or four years. Hawaii is a high priority, and ETOPS certification for the 737 fleet is progressing.
Alaska is also a target for expansion.
The majority of the new cities will be in the Caribbean and Latin America, he said.