A320NEO — The Obvious Choice
If Southwest does decide to diversify the fleet, the obvious choice would be to seek parity (or near-parity) with the 737 MAX. The A320 family offers seating in similar range between the 737-700 and 737-800 with the A319 and A320. They also offer an attractive A321NEO fleet that includes the longer range LR and forthcoming ultra long range ‘XLR’. The latter could open up routes from the East Coast of the US to Western European destinations.
What makes a straight NEO buy unlikely is that a NEO really doesn’t offer much additional capability for the airline. It is true that an A320 fleet would reduce the airline’s vulnerability to a fleet-wide grounding. However, it would add complexity in both crew scheduling and maintenance without significant operational gains. Like the larger 737-9 offering, Southwest still would have challenges operating the larger A321 at their Midway Airport focus city due to runway length. The jet would also not open up many new markets because the size and range is so similar to the existing fleet.
A220 – The New Canadian Airbus
The A220 is a really interesting option for Southwest. The jet is currently offered as a -100 and -300. The smaller version seats about the same as a Boeing 717. The larger one approaches the same category as their existing 737-700 fleet. The A220’s efficiency at the -300 is better than the 737-MAX7 due to a lighter structure. A220 also features a very comfortable cabin and the support network of Airbus.
What makes this jet so unique is that it has MAX-like efficiency and range in a smaller package. Southwest could potentially unlock new markets with an A220. Hawaii to smaller cities like Albuquerque, Tucson, or Reno become doable. Long-distance, thin routes like Boise to Fort Lauderdale could prove profitable too. As an additional bonus, Southwest would have the same aircraft as Moxy, a proposed startup with the goal to connect cities in the US that are not currently connected.
E190-E2: Boeing’s answer to the A220
With Boeing’s acquisition of Embraer, the Embraer E190-E2 offers an opportunity for Southwest to technically stay all Boeing while getting a smaller jet. The E2 offers many of the same advantages as the A220. Both jets are efficient. Where the Airbus has an advantage is range. The E2’s range is sufficient for transcontinental flights and even has the range to Central America from Houston Hobby. However, its range is more in line with the existing 737NG fleet. Flights to Europe or South America on a Southwest E2 jet won’t happen.
Dreamliner for Southwest?
Let’s put this in the near-fanciful but possible category. The Boeing 787 offers Southwest an efficient way to offer long haul service. Over the past few years, Southwest has expanded beyond its traditional route structure as the airline added Central America and Hawaii. It’s conceivable that they could add a second type for long haul service. As cool as it might be to sit in a Southwest Dreamliner, we’re guessing that the odds are pretty low. A 787 wouldn’t really help Southwest diversify their fleet unless the airline acquired a number of them. The 787 would be too big to operate at Chicago Midway and a few other markets that it currently serve. And most importantly, the relatively small fleet size would mean that the airline would not really significantly reduce risk if there was another MAX-like grounding that would affect the 737 fleet.
Not going to happen…but what if?
Back when Southwest merged with AirTran, they acquired 88 Boeing 717 jets. At the time, Southwest said that they planned to retain the jets but less than a year later, the airline announced an agreement with Delta to lease them the jets in a sweetheart deal that included Southwest paying for refurbishment. At the time, it was a smart move. The 717 wasn’t much cheaper to operate than the 737-700 even though it had less seats. It also would have introduced operational complexities before Southwest had the upgraded computer technology to easily deal with such a challenge.
But today with 34 MAX jets grounded and Delta flying the 717s in Southwest’s own backyard, we have to wonder how Southwest might have grown differently with the two types operating within the airline.
Place Your Bets
If we were betting, we still think that Southwest will focus on returning the MAX to service and controlling growth by removing aging 737NG’s as necessary. But I also think we can’t rule out an A320 or A220 in a Southwest livery one day.
What do you think? Do you think we might see a non-737 jet in Southwest colors one day?
Editors note: Special thanks to Mister Livery for letting us use a couple of his images for this story. You can see more of his work by clicking on the image below:
View this post on Instagram
Breaking News! Southwest Airlines has decided to lease MD90s in order to compensate for the Max 8s being grounded. SIKE!!!!!! April Fools! I got bored lol 😂 McDonnell Douglas MD90 X Southwest Airlines @southwestair Concept Livery #aviationdaily #avporn #instagramaviation #pilot #instaaviation #planespotting #plane #aviators #instaplane #boeing #airbus #aviator #pilotlife #megaplane #airplanes #avgeeks #planes #airport #avnerd #airline #flying #aviation_lovers #flight #aviationlife #avgeek #airplanelovers #aviationlovers #airlines #aviationphotography #planelovers