ORLANDO, Fla. -- American Airlines is close to a major milestone in its massive narrowbody fleet upgrade program, putting a Boeing 737-800 prototype through final evaluation and certification testing at its Tulsa, Oklahoma, maintenance facility with an eye on starting modification lines after the peak summer flying season.
American's program, dubbed Project Oasis internally, will outfit new cabins on about 250 737-800s and 200 Airbus A321s. The most important change in the cabin-harmonization project is adding seats to both aircraft models, giving them the same capacity as their next-generation family members. The 737-800s will have 172 seats, matching 100 737-8s that the carrier has recently begun taking, while the A321s will seat 190, matching the carrier's A321neos.
The project--the most extensive modification program in the carrier's history--will bring several major benefits, American VP-Technical Services Craig Barton told MRO Americas attendees here April 10. Among them: fewer spares, and the the ability to schedule and swap aircraft out worry-free, instead of facing situations where, for instance, a dispatch issue forces the carrier to substitute a 160-seat 737-800 for a 172-seat 737-8 on a sold-out flight.
The largest benefit, of course, is the added capacity--part of an airline-wide trend that is both simplifying the carrier's fleet and putting more seats on routes without adding frequencies. At the end of 2014, the carrier's 983-aircraft mainline fleet included included 587 narrowbodies with 90 to 160 seats, and 245 with 161 or more. By 2020, comparable figures will be 173 and 612, respectively, while the total fleet will go up by only two--a function of upgauging, new deliveries, and the planned retirements of 360 MD-80s.
The Oasis 737 retrofits are slated to start this fall. American plans to have up to seven lines doing the work, which will be split between internal and third-party MRO providers. The A321 will follow, starting in 2019. Modifications will take about two years for each fleet type.
American has added "about three dozen" 737-800s to its original Oasis overhaul list as a result of its recent decision to defer 40 737-8 deliveries, Barton said. The aircraft, originally slated for delivery in 2020-22, will now arrive in 2025-26. The airline has committed to 100 total, and has taken delivery of eight.
The 737-8 deferrals came in connection with the carrier's order for 47 787-family aircraft announced April 6.