American Airlines could begin returning Airbus A319s to lessors in 2017, widening the aircraft size gap in its mainline fleet.

The Fort Worth-based carrier operates 125 A319s with 106 leased and 19 owned, a fleet plan at the end of 2015 shows and Flightglobal’s Fleets Analyzer confirms. It has no outstanding orders for the type.

A319s will begin leaving American’s fleet in 2017 if their leases are not extended. At least 41 of the type are scheduled to return to lessors by 2020 and another 61 by 2024, Fleets Analyzer shows.

AA A319 Leases

Flightglobal's Fleets Analyzer

The end dates of leases on four A319s is unknown, however, other aircraft delivered around the same time are scheduled to expire by 2021, according to Fleets Analyzer.

If all of the A319s are returned on schedule, American would operate 84 of the type at the end of 2020 and just 19 four years later.

American has no replacement lined up for the A319.

While the carrier has firm orders for 323 aircraft, all are for larger aircraft types including Airbus A321s and A321neos and Boeing 737-800s and 737 Max 8s, Fleets Analyzer shows.

“We have a significant amount of aircraft coming in, in this year, 2017, 2018, 2019, so I think we have the order that's in place that needs to be there,” said Derek Kerr, chief financial officer of American, when asked about recent orders for small narrowbodies by other carriers earlier in April.

Delta Air Lines has orders for 75 Bombardier CS100s and has 91 Boeing 717-200s to meet its small narrowbody needs and United Airlines is leasing up to 25 used A319s and has orders for 65 737-700s to meet its own requirements in the segment. Both carriers are using the aircraft as part of programmes to replace 50-seat regional jets.

The 717s, 737s and CS100s have between roughly 108 and 124 seats at Delta and United, slotting in between the airlines’ 76-seat regional jets and 150 seat or larger Airbus A320s and 737-800s.

American configures its A319s with 128 seats, which fits well between its 99-seat E190s and 140-seat Boeing MD-80s and 150-seat A320s. However, the MD-80s will be replaced by 160-seat 737-800s by 2017 and the A320 fleet is slowly being drawn down, with four scheduled to leave this year.

The gap between the E190s – itself a small fleet of just 20 aircraft – and the A320s will grow rapidly as the A319s and MD-80s leave the fleet.

American says it plans to extend the life of some of its A319s.

"The A319 is a valuable part of our fleet and we’ll be looking at ways to keep flying those aircraft for the foreseeable future," says an airline spokesman. "We’re retrofitting and standardising 93 former US Airways A319s from 124 to 128 seats, including in-seat power ports in every row in the main cabin and each seat in first class."

However, American chief executive Doug Parker called the average age of its fleet, which will be under 10 years by the end of 2017, a competitive "product advantage", earlier in April.

“We have a large order book and we've brought in a lot of new airplanes,” he said. “The result is the American Airlines fleet now is down right around 10 years on average, which is lower than any of our peers, and well lower than some of our peers, and shrinking."

Source: Cirium Dashboard