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Southwest Airlines jet Southwest Airlines

Southwest Capacity Growth To Come From Upgauging

Besides replacing much of its older Boeing fleet, Southwest is also upgrading its Wi-Fi offerings.

Southwest Airlines is replacing its 737-300 fleet with a combination of used 737-700s, new -800s and MAX-8 aircraft. The existing -300 fleet will be retired by the end of September.

At the end of 2016, the carrier had 87 -300s. It will not replace that fleet one to one with new aircraft, says John Brutlag, the company’s director-planning, programs and reliability. But despite this, Southwest’s capacity, measured in available seat-miles, will grow 3.5%. “It’s all from upgauging,” Brutlag told Aviation Week at the MRO Americas conference in Orlando, Florida

Southwest will not remove the -300s at once. Instead, the carrier will remove a certain number from the fleet every month with the goal of having the entire fleet out of service by the end of September, Brutlag said.

Southwest is buying -700s from “various operators” to replace the -300s. In addition, the carrier is taking delivery of -800s every month for the balance of 2017. Nine MAX aircraft—737-8s—will come online in October, Brutlag said. Retiring the -300 fleet will reduce Southwest’s maintenance costs significantly, as that fleet has an average age of more than 20 years. The -800 fleet, by comparison, has an average age of less than three years, Brutlag said.

The initial MAX aircraft will be equipped with Global Eagle’s Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi connectivity product, which is used on much of Southwest’s fleet. However, Kent Horton, Southwest director-aircraft engineering, told Aviation Week that the carrier is retrofitting some of its fleet with Panasonic’s Ku-band product, and the Panasonic system will be on all the new -800s.

When asked why Southwest is equipping its fleet with two different Wi-Fi systems, Horton said few providers are prepared to support Wi-Fi for the carrier’s fleet of more than 700 aircraft. “It sets up some competition between providers as well,” he said.

When the -300s are retired, Southwest will have Wi-Fi connectivity on 100% of its aircraft, he added.

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