Will Southwest Airlines Consider Acquiring The Airbus A220?

Southwest Airlines' Boeing 737 MAX aircraft
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Ask the Editors: The Aviation Week Network invites our readers to submit questions to our editors and analysts. We’ll answer them, and if we can’t we’ll reach out to our wide network of experts for advice.

With the slow return of the Boeing 737 MAX, will Southwest Airlines entertain the Airbus A220 aircraft?

Aviation Week Regulatory and Air Transport Editor Ben Goldstein answers:

Southwest executives have confirmed that there is a review underway of both the A220—formerly the Bombardier C Series—and the 737-7 as potential fleet additions, noting the need for an airplane in the 140-150-seat range.

“The A220 and the MAX 7, they are the two players in the [150-seat] marketplace, and both of those airplanes have their strengths and their disadvantages,” Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said Oct. 29 on an earnings call. “We’ve been looking at both airplanes. We’ll continue that evaluation.”

This is not the first time Southwest executives have flirted with the possibility of diversifying the carrier’s all-737 fleet. In October 2019, the company said it planned a strategic fleet diversification review for 2020—in light of the continued challenges afflicting the 737 MAX. Back in 2011, the carrier briefly entertained a possible purchase of Airbus A320neos before opting instead for the MAX.

In deciding whether to diversify away from the 737 family, Southwest must weigh the pros of a dual fleet against the cons of added complexity and higher labor, maintenance and training costs that would come along with the addition of another fleet type.

“When we look at it, it just may be economically and operationally infeasible,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in 2019. “And vice versa, we may find that . . . it is better to have two airplanes, economically and operationally.”

Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia has called a potential A220 purchase by Southwest a “heart attack scenario” for Boeing, which could prompt the OEM to reconsider its entire narrowbody strategy.

“There’s just too much at stake here, and it’s not just Southwest,” Aboulafia says. “It’s the people who look up to Southwest as the most consistently profitable airline in history and consider following them.”

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.