Southwest Airlines today signed a contract for a hundred 737 MAX airplanes and 155 options across two models.
The Boeing 737 MAX was grounded worldwide in March 2019 following the second of two accidents within just six months, which together claimed 346 lives. The root cause of these tragic accidents was traced to software known as the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), intended to make the plane easier to handle. However, the MCAS, guided by only one Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor, kicked in repeatedly if that sensor malfunctioned, pushing the nose of the aircraft downward multiple times. In both accidents, pilots finally lost control of their plane, resulting in a crash with total loss of aircraft.
Today's deal comes after a multi-year fleet evaluation by Southwest and means that Boeing and its suppliers could build more than 600 new 737 MAX jets for the airline through 2031.
Southwest had been exploring options to modernize the largest component of its fleet: the 737-700 that serves the airline’s needs for a 140-150 seat airplane. With the new agreement, the airline reaffirmed the 737-7 as its preferred replacement and growth airplane. The jet will complement the 737-8, which serves Southwest’s needs for a 175-seat model. Both 737 MAX family members will reduce fuel use and carbon emissions by at least 14% compared to the airplanes they replace, helping to improve operating costs and environmental performance. Southwest said the solution allows it to maintain the operational efficiencies of an all-Boeing 737 fleet to support its low-cost, point-to-point route network.
“Southwest Airlines has been operating the Boeing 737 series for nearly 50 years, and the aircraft has made significant contributions to our unparalleled success. 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,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest’s chairman and CEO. “We are proud to continue our tradition of being the world’s largest operator of an all-Boeing fleet.”
“In addition to supporting our efforts to operate sustainably and efficiently, the 737 MAX offers Employees and Customers travel comforts such as a quieter cabin, larger overhead bin spaces, seating with adjustable headrests, and more galley space for onboard service,” said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s chief operating officer.
The new purchase agreement takes Southwest’s order book to 200 737-7s and 180 737-8s, more than 30 of which have already been delivered. Southwest will also have 270 options for either of the two models, taking the carrier’s direct-buy commitment to more than 600 airplanes. The airline also plans additional 737 MAX jets through third-party lessors.
As part of the agreement, Southwest will also expand its use of Boeing’s digital solutions to support its 737 MAX fleet, including Airplane Health Management, Maintenance Performance Toolbox and digital navigation charting tools. Boeing will also provide see system software upgrades and new wireless communications-enabling equipment to support Southwest’s operations.