Common 737 rating ideal as Southwest mulls future narrowbody

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A next generation narrowbody that offers significant improvements in operational efficiency over current designs but has “a common type rating” with the Boeing 737 would be ideal for Southwest Airlines, an executive at the airline tells Flight's premium product, ATI.

Asked to discuss Southwest’s interest in narrowbody replacement, the carrier’s senior director of engineering and maintenance programs Dale Stolzer said that, if it is not possible to achieve the same type rating as the 737, than “something that would have the lowest amount of additional training time required” would be the next most attractive option “in order to gain operational flexibility with any pilot flying for Southwest”.It would cost “several hundred million dollars” for 737 operator Southwest to train its pilots in multiple aircraft types, he notes.

While Southwest is “always looking at what everybody has on the drawing board regardless of manufacturer and regardless of size”, it has kept coming back to the 737 “because it has served us so well”, says Stolzer, noting that standardization of Southwest’s fleet has given the carrier “one of the biggest operational efficiencies”.

Any new-design narrowbody has some big shoes to fill, he says. “The existing airplane we have today has set the bar very high. We would be looking for a 15% to 20% operational efficiency improvement over our existing 737-700.” An entry-into-service of 2015 or later for narrowbody replacement aircraft is being projected by airframers. New engine technology will largely drive this timeline.Southwest has not shown favouritism to one engine over another. For example, notes Stolzer, while open rotor architecture “promises the most fuel burn” there are other issues “that nobody has their arms wrapped around” yet, including whether the powerplant will pass regulatory standards for blade-out and whether it will be the most cost-efficient in terms of maintenance. Lifecycle costs must be determined, he says.

The design goals for new engines that call for higher fuel efficiency with super-low emissions and noise “run opposite of each other,” he says, adding: “Everybody can’t have everything.”In light of these considerations, Southwest continues to study the market. “Have we sent a message to Boeing that this is what we want? No we have not. We’re looking at every option that’s on the table and trying to come up with a long-term plan.”