Southwest believes a 200-seat next generation narrowbody is too large

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A decision by Boeing to shun designing a newer high-density narrwobody pushing the 200-seat mark is likely to gain approval from the manufacturer's largest customer Southwest Airlines.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney recently quashed speculation the airframer would unveil its narrowbody development plans during the upcoming Paris Air Show after he stated Boeing would deliver its decision within the next nine months.

McNerney also said the company was ruling out a narrowbody replacement similarly sized to the 200-seat Boeing 757, and instead hinted at an aircraft "modestly bigger" than today's 145 to 180-seat 737-700 and -800.

During a recent interview with ATI sister publication Airline Business, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly explained Southwest might be open to a 140-145-seat aircraft that fits the mission of its 137-seat 737-700s, which serve as the backbone of the carrier's fleet at 356 of its 550 aircraft. "It does feel like that size aircraft has a big place in our fleet," Kelly said.

Noting that if Boeing determined the sweet spot in the market was closer to 200 seats, Kelly stated: "That's too big for us. That's not going to meet our needs."

Prior to Boeing's announcement that it is likely to reveal narrowbody plans in early 2012, Kelly said that Southwest was looking forward to decision by the airframer this year.

If Boeing takes the full nine months to unveil a future narrowbody design, it could brush up against the time Southwest starts to takes delivery of the first of 20 higher-density Boeing 737-800s. The Dallas-based carrier is scheduled to take delivery of the first aircraft in March 2012.

Dallas-based Southwest is also now incorporating AirTran's fleet of 88 117-seat Boeing 717s. Kelly stated that while the 717s remain relatively young, at some point Southwest would need to consider a successor aircraft.

As Southwest's sole aircraft supplier Boeing has not expressed any real interest in developing an aircraft that size, Kelly said: "Bombardier is clearly brining something new to the market, and the fact that we are inheriting these 717s just demands that we take a good hard look at all the options we have."

Highlighting the new engine technology Bombardier is introducing on its 110- to -149 seat CSeries through the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan, Kelly noted: "We just have the perfect opportunity to look at it and give it a good thorough look."