- Southwest announced that it would pull the Boeing737 Max from its schedule until January 5, 2020, later than any other US airline to date.
- The airline also said it plans to stop flying to Newark Liberty International Airport from November 3 onward, consolidating its New York flights to LaGuardia.
- Southwest has more 737 Max aircraft than any other US airline at 34, and was supposed to receive 41 more in 2019.
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Southwest Airlines announced on Thursday that it would pull the Boeing 737 Max from its schedule through the rest of 2019, sharply contrasting itself with Boeing and other airlines that are increasingly confident the troubled jet can be returned to full service by early in the fourth quarter this year.
The airline also announced plans to pull its flights from the New York City-area Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) beginning in early November.
The two announcements came as part of a larger release outlining the airline’s second quarter financial performance. The airline warned of lower-than-expected revenue for the quarter and diminished capacity amid the 737 Max’s ongoing grounding. The airline has 34 of the 737 Max 8 jet – more than any other US carrier – all of which have been grounded since mid-March following the second fatal crash involving the model in five months. The airline was also supposed to receive an additional 41 aircraft through 2019.
As airlines plan for their holiday operations, they have been hesitant to commit to pulling the jet from their schedules too far in advance without firm information about when the jets will return to service. In Thursday’s announcement, Southwest said it would keep the Max grounded through January 5, 2020. Southwest had previously pulled the Max through October 1, while American and United – the other US airlines with the 737 Max – have pulled it through November 2 and 3, respectively, although those dates are subject to change.
Southwest said it plans to stop flying out of Newark starting November 3, and would consolidate its New York City-area operations to LaGuardia Airport. The airline said its Newark operations have not been as strong as it had hoped, while LaGuardia demand is up.
“I am grateful to our wonderful Newark Employees, who are a top priority, and will be given an opportunity to relocate to another station in our system, including LaGuardia Airport,” said CEO Gary Kelly in a release.
The airline currently offers about 20 daily flights from Newark to 10 cities.
Southwest’s extension of its 737 Max grounding came in the same week that Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, as well as other executives from American, all expressed optimism that the Max would return to full commercial service before the Thanksgiving holiday.
However, on an analysts call Thursday afternoon, Kelly said that even if that timeline is achieved, American Airlines still would not begin flying customers on the Max until January, taking time to slowly and methodically return it to service.
“While the return date has shifted from our original expectations, we remain optimistic that the aircraft will return to service in November,” said American Airlines president Robert Isom on a Thursday morning investors call. “Our confidence in Boeing the FAA and other regulatory agencies remains intact.”
“Our current best estimate,” Muilenburg told analysts on Wednesday, “is to deliver our certification package [to the FAA], including the certification flight, in that September timeframe and then return to service in early in the fourth quarter.”
Southwest said it plans to decrease its capacity by around 2% due to the delays returning the Max to service, down from a forecast of 5% growth.
Despite the reduction in capacity and available aircraft, though, the airline said it would add more flights to Hawaii, the first expansion since it began service from Oakland, California in March. The airline did not reveal specifics, but it reiterated previously stated plans to add service from Sacramento and San Diego, as well as intra-island flights.
Although the airline’s revenue for the quarter missed expectations due to the 737 Max grounding, profits were slightly higher than expected at $US1.37 per diluted share. Southwest shares were up nearly 2% as of 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.
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