Southwest Airlines recommits to Boeing with order for 100 new 737 Max 7 jets

Kyle Arnold

The Dallas Morning News

Southwest Airlines will buy 100 new Boeing 737 Max 7 jets over the next decade, ending any speculation that the Dallas-based carrier will switch away from its all Boeing fleet.

Boeing announced the deal Monday morning which will bring Southwest’s order of the 737 jets to more than 349 over the next decade, sealing the long partnership that was severely strained when Boeing’s flagship 737 Max line was grounded for two years.

The 737 Max 7 is the slightly smaller version of 737 Max 8, carrying 140 to 150 passengers. The Max 8, which Southwest currently flies, carries 175 passengers. The smaller jet should give the airline more options to fly to smaller destinations or more frequencies when the bigger jets aren’t required.

The first 30 of those 737 Max 7 jets should be delivered in 2022, Southwest said.

“Southwest Airlines has been operating the Boeing 737 series for nearly 50 years, and the aircraft has made significant contributions to our unparalleled success,” said a statement from Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. “Today’s commitment to the 737 MAX solidifies our continued appreciation for the aircraft and confirms our plans to offer the Boeing 737 series of aircraft to our Employees and Customers for years to come.”

Southwest had pledged to give serious consideration to a new style of jet after the 737 Max was grounded in 2019 and cost the airline billions of dollars in revenue and severely hampered growth for more than a year. Meanwhile, the airplane manufacturer and the FAA came under serious scrutiny as it was revealed that Boeing and several of its employees hid key information from federal regulators during the certification process.

Two Boeing 737 Max jets crashed in 2018 and 2019 in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing 346 people after a faulty software program was triggered and refused to disengage, sending the plates plummeting to the ground.

But the plane was recertified in November and Southwest put it back into operation earlier this month.

Southwest is famous for its all 737 fleet, which gives it the flexibility to switch out airplanes without changing pilots or flight attendants.

Southwest leaders said they were looking at new planes last year, but admitted that the airline had never officially entered talks with Airbus on a new jet last fall.

The new 737 Max line is about 14% more fuel-efficient than the previous generations of 737 jets, the NG, and it’s much quieter. That fuel efficiency saves cash and gives the option to fly to destinations further away.

With Monday’s announced deal, Southwest has orders for 200 of the 737 Max 7 jets and 180 of the larger 737 Max 8 jets. The deal also gives Southwest the option to order 270 of either model 737 Max.

“We are deeply honored by Southwest’s continuing trust in Boeing and the 737,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO and President Stan Deal said in a statement. “Their fleet decision today brings more stability for our biggest commercial program and will ensure that our entire 737 family will be building new airplanes for Southwest for years to come.”

The deal is a major win for Boeing, which was hampered by not only the 737 Max scandal but has also seen a major drop in orders since the COVID-19 pandemic sapped the demand out of the airline industry. Analysts are expecting it to take years for the air travel industry to return to previous levels.

Southwest is expected to end 2021 with 69 of the Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after ending 2020 with 34.