Southwest confirms delivery of 1st 737-800

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Southwest Airlines plans to roll out its first Boeing 737-800 in the "next week or so" after taking delivery several days ago, a top executive says.

Introducing the 175-seat 737-800 is a key part of Southwest's strategy to book more revenue with larger airplanes while capacity growth slows or stays flat.

"We took delivery last week," senior vice president and chief financial officer Laura Wright told the JP Morgan aviation transportation and defence conference.

Southwest expects to receive 33 737-800s in 2012 and 73 over the next three years.

Meanwhile, Southwest later this year is also introducing the Evolve interior to the 737-700, which adds a six-seat row.

Southwest has forecast that both fleet changes should increase revenue by $870 million over the next three years.

The acquisition of AirTran added 88 117-seat Boeing 717s, the first non-737 airframe in Southwest's fleet.

Wright told analysts the 717s can still operate profitably under the current leasing terms with Boeing.

"We currently have the intent to continue to operate that fleet," she says. "With 88 we feel like we can do it efficiently and economically."

However, she adds that Southwest has said the 717s do not fit a strategic nitch in the carrier's overall network.