AirTran Airways has accepted the first of at least 50 Boeing 737-700/800s, as it lays the foundations for an aggressive growth phase planned to begin in 2005.
The first two 737s will be joined by a further pair in August, followed by additional aircraft at the rate of one a month, says chairman and chief executive Joe Leonard. The current aircraft on firm order will be delivered by the end of 2008. AirTran holds options on 25 aircraft along with "purchase rights" on a further 25, and Leonard says that decisions on firming up options do not have to be taken for 15 months.
Of the 50-strong firm order batch, AirTran is purchasing the initial pair, while 22 of the remainder will be leased from GE Capital Aviation Services. The new aircraft will initially replace the Ryan International-operated Airbus A320s currently being used by AirTran to serve its longer-haul western US destinations from its Atlanta hub.
Later in the year further aircraft will then substitute for Boeing 717-200s, which in turn will be used to replace regional jet services being operated by Air Wisconsin as part of AirTran's abortive JetConnect experiment.
"With only 717/737s in the fleet we will be able to offer an identical form of business class on every flight with the same full-size cabins and wide overhead bins," says Leonard.
Further aircraft will be used progressively from early 2005 to expand AirTran's overall available seat kilometre capacity by up to 25% a year for the next five years, he adds. Possible new markets include points in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico - particularly Cancun.
GUY NORRIS / LOS ANGELES
Source: Flight International