Southwest’s chief open to discuss new light twin aisle

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Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly concludes that while the carrier does not have a lot of insight into potential plans by Boeing for a new light twin-aisle aircraft, "there are at least some theoretical advantages," to the design.

"I think a lot of that may very well depend on the size of the aircraft," Kelly told attendees at the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation and Defense conference. "Maybe a twin-aisle doesn't work for a 137-seater [the size of Southwest's Boeing 737-700s], but maybe it does for a 150-seater".

Air Lease chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy told delegates at the recent ISTAT conference that a small twin-aisle "has a lot of advantages once you get north of 200 seats". Key attributes are cargo capacity and shorter turn times, he explains. "The whole idea of a short- to medium-haul aircraft is maximizing utilisation and if you can get ten minutes a turn and you do six segments a day you can get an hour more flight utilisation."

Kelly stresses Southwest does not know enough yet about twin-aisle studies to "really have much of an opinion. But I would acknowledge that we're open to those kinds of discussions".

A clear picture has yet to emerge from the industry "in terms of optimising the size of the narrwobody aircraft", Kelly says. "We're obviously very interested to see where that settles, in addition to the timetable. So there are a lot of answered questions. We're working with Boeing and anxious to have some answers this year."

Kelly also reiterates previous declarations that Southwest could eventually operate two-to-three fleet types, "whether its Boeing, whether its Airbus or whether its Bombardier".

He feels confident Southwest can operate more than one fleet type efficiently as long as there are a sufficient number of units in a given sub-fleet.

In the short-term Southwest is preparing to incorporate the Boeing 717 in its fleet through its acquisition of AirTran. "The bigger question is what's the next 717 solution?" Kelly states. "It's not the most pressing fleet question we have, but I would admit we have some interesting and some fun fleet questions for the next generation here."