There have been several published stories about how Southwest is looking at other aircraft than Boeing. Even though the airline has its entire history wrapped up with Boeing, and a fleet change will cause a lot of disruption, it is rational for the company to always look at what’s out there. Equally, the airline’s leadership has been clear they like the MAX and want it back in service.
Trying to understand the airline’s loyalty to the MAX under the circumstance may appear odd to many people. There are several good reasons to stay loyal: pilot training, maintenance and operations being among the top three. With airlines, the #1 issue is always cost. Here’s what MAX has meant to Southwest. (The data for 2019 is through June) The fuel/total air ops ratio for Southwest as of June 2019 was 38.7% compared to 40.1% for the industry. That difference is worth serious money – Southwest has an operational cost/hour of $3,269 compared to the industry average (single-aisle fleet) of $3,487. A 6.3% lower operational cost advantage is huge.
The chart shows the ratio of fuel costs to total air operations costs. We all know about the decline if fuel costs over the past few years. The dotted red trendline shows this clearly. But take a look at what the MAX fuel efficiency did during its short time at Southwest. No wonder Gary Kelly is so keen to get it back in service.
The quickest way to solve Southwest’s MAX problems is to get the MAX flying again. There is no “off the shelf” alternative for them or any other MAX operator for that matter. All the looking at Airbus cannot solve anything. No lessor has “spare” Airbus neos ready to go. The shortest route to recovery is to fix the MAX and get it approved to fly again.
That is why the pressure is so intense on Boeing and the approving agencies. The stakes for MAX operators are immense.