Boeing 737-700 to play a major role at Southwest in the future

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Although incorporation of the Boeing 737-800 is a key strategy for Southwest Airlines in its growth during the next few years, carrier management is stressing the -700 will continue to be a key part of its fleet going forward.

Southwest plans to take the first of 20 larger 737-800s in March of 2012. The aircraft will have full extended-range twin engine operational performance standards (ETOPs), which would allow for operation to Hawaii.

However, Southwest CFO Laura Wright during the 19 May Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Transportation Conference stated: "You should expect we'll continue to have a significant number of -700s in our network as well."

Wright stated "it is surprising to most people" that the 737-800 has less range than the -700 variant since the -800 is a heavier aircraft. "In terms of what we want to use the -800 for, we could do those [missions] with the -700," said Wright. "It [the -800] is really more geared to those opportunities where we have higher demand in long-haul and near-international routes."

She explained Southwest could operate an ETOPs-certified -700 to Hawaii, but the -800 would allow the carrier to achieve a lower casm [cost per available seat mile] with a larger aircraft".

The -800 still has a higher trip costs, Wright explained, "so if you've got a market that the demand is 135 people at 10 in the morning on Tuesday morning, you would be better off doing that with a -700. That is really the balance we've gone through in our network to really size up how many airplanes it would make sense to do with the -800".

Flightglobal's ACAS database shows Southwest operates 359 737-700s.