Southwest Airlines has added 34 more firm orders for Boeing 737 Max 7 series jets “based on improving revenue trends and ongoing fleet modernization plans,” the company said Tuesday.
Dallas-based Southwest, whose CEO, Gary Kelly, recently told The Dallas Morning News that it has “hundreds of airplanes of growth still available,” exercised nearly three dozen options on the smaller Boeing 737 Max variant for 2022. In March, the company inked a deal for 100 new 737 Max 7 jets, including 30 to be delivered next year, the company said in a financial filing.
In 2022, the company now hopes to get 64 of the 737 Max 7 planes, which are smaller variants built to carry about 150 passengers under Southwest’s single-class configuration.
The news came as Southwest said it could break even financially in June after 15 months of losing more than $1 million a day. That’s because Southwest and other airlines have seen an influx of leisure travelers ready to get out and fly this summer.
Southwest, the flagship 737 Max customer, now has firm orders for 383 of the aircraft over the next decade and options on another 277. That means Southwest could bring in 660 jets by 2031 while hoping to retire 30 to 35 older-generation Boeing 737 jets each year.
Southwest continues to exercise faith in Boeing’s 737 Max jets despite the fatal software flaw that grounded the jets worldwide for nearly two years between 2019 and 2021 and the wiring issues on some newer jets that again forced Southwest to pull planes from its fleet.
Kelly has repeatedly affirmed his faith in Boeing and the 737 Max after two years of turmoil following the crashes that killed 346 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia and caused a reckoning at Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration due to how the plane was certified.
But Southwest, which has flown only 737 jets for more than three decades, has recommitted to the plane as it has expanded its footprint to 119 destinations. The new Max jets are about 15% more fuel-efficient than older models and have quieter engines, too.
Compared with the 737 Max 8, which carries about 175 passengers, the planes will be better suited for Southwest’s growing focus on smaller cities and second airports in major markets. Southwest has recently added service to cities, such as Jackson, Miss., and Eugene, Ore., to capture more passengers during the pandemic downturn in flying.
“It’s a smaller plane, and it’s better suited to sort of a medium-range, maybe shorter-haul routes,” Kelly said of the 737 Max 7 series planes in an interview with the Morning News in May. “But they’re both (the Max 7 and Max 8) fantastic airplanes; they’re very versatile; they’ll do the mission for short, medium or long.”
Southwest has a fleet of about 750 planes, and Kelly said that before the pandemic, the airline had estimated it could grow to as many as 1,200 planes. That would require expanding its fleet by more than 50% and rivaling larger fleets of legacy airline competitors such as Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Chicago-based United Airlines.
Southwest has had 20 of the 737 Max jets delivered so far in 2021, bringing its fleet to about 64 jets. It has orders for 19 more 737 Max 8 jets in 2021. Now it plans to nearly double its 737 Max fleet in 2022, all with the smaller 737 Max variant.