Southwest to add 25 737-800s in 2012; foresees at least 100 -800s

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Southwest Airlines will lease five Boeing 737-800s to be delivered in 2012 in addition to 20 -800s it will receive from Boeing next year, as the airline continues to evaluate switching other -700 orders to the larger -800s.

The carrier expects to have at least a hundred 737-800s in its fleet eventually, said Southwest CFO Laura Wright at today's Dahlman Rose & Co Global Transportation Conference.

Southwest is scheduled to receive its first 737-800 from Boeing in March 2012. "The Boeing contract allows us to substitute the -700s beyond those 25 [aircraft] with -800s. Our best estimate at this time is that we will probably have at least a hundred -800s in our fleet," said Wright.

The new aircraft will provide Southwest a "significant opportunity to manage our costs and revenues", she added.

With the new additions to the fleet, the airline sees a gradually less important role for its Boeing 717s, which it acquired after it purchased AirTran Airways, which operates 88 of the type.

Wright said that while replacing such a large fleet of 717s immediately would not be practical, she said the airline does not envision the 717 as a big part of its fleet form a long-term strategic standpoint.