American says New-Design Narrowbody Needs to Show “Significant” Step-up in Fuel Efficiency; Actively Searches for MD-80 Replacement

With 300 aging Boeing MD-80s on its books, American Airlines is actively searching for a replacement aircraft. But should the US major wait until Airbus and Boeing launch successors to their highly-successful narrowbody programs (not likely to occur until at least 2015 if not later) to place a significant new order, or should the airline place more incremental orders for current-model types? The latter appears a likely tide-over method. And what about Bombardier’s proposed 110/130-seat CSeries? Is that a viable consideration for the Oneworld alliance member in light of its anticipated 2013 entry-into-service?

I asked these questions to American and here is what one of the carrier’s prominent spokesmen had to say:

“Obviously [MD-80 replacement] is something we’re in very close contact with all the manufacturers [about]. Of course Boeing and Airbus are our suppliers for the mainline, and then we have relationships with some of the other guys through American Eagle and that sort of thing,” says the spokesman, adding: “I’m sure we’ll look at the timing too with whatever anyone puts out there.”

But a new-design aircraft’s time-to-market is not American’s only consideration. “This is not just a timing question. We want to make sure the decisions we make … are the right decisions,” says the spokesman.

American must also “consider fleet commonality, training, maintenance”. It’s “not just when we can get it”, he notes.

Fuel efficiency, for example, “needs to be significant” step up. “I don’t think there is a magic number…but we’re also looking at the potential for … government and environmental emissions issues and less fuel means less emissions. So there is a lot to that and so yes, it has to be significant.”

There is a balancing between how many current generation narrowbodies are purchased as MD-80 replacements and “at what point does the actual assuredly of a new generational narrowbody” [prompt] that transition, he says.

While a final decision awaits, American has been pulling forward orders for Boeing 737-800s, and adding incremental orders on top of that. If Boeing sticks with a 2015 launch of its narrowbody successor, it’s clear that American will “need to definitely bring in a sizable number of existing technology types…because with the 300 MD-80s, it took many years for those to arrive and will take several years to replace them all as well”.

(Photo courtesy of American’s web site http://www.aa.com/aa/i18nForward.do?p=/aboutUs/ourPlanes/boeingMD80.jsp )

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