Boeing’s 737 Max delivery delays have drawn sharp criticism from Southwest Airlines’ chief executive Bob Jordan, who described the carrier’s highly constrained 2024 growth plan during JP Morgan’s Industrials Conference on 12 March. 

“Fix the culture, whatever is at work here,” Jordan says. “We all need Boeing stronger two years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now. And that takes precedent over delivery delays. Boeing needs to become a better company – and the deliveries will follow that.”

The Dallas-based carrier now expects 46 737 Max deliveries in 2024 rather than the 79 it had previously anticipated, and it is “not unlikely” the final number is closer to 25 jet deliveries, Jordan says. 

Southwest has previously disclosed that it no longer expects any deliveries of the yet-to-be-certificated 737 Max 7 in 2024. 

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737

Source: Southwest Airlines

Southwest is cutting its hiring plans in response to fleet growth constrained by availability of new aircraft 

Boeing responds to Jordan’s remarks by maintaining that it is ”squarely focused on implementing changes to strengthen quality across our production system and taking the necessary time to deliver high-quality airplanes that meet all regulatory requirements”.

“We continue to stay in close contact with our valued customers about these issues and our actions to address them,” adds the airframer.

Meanwhile, Southwest is “actively and urgently” focused on cutting costs in response to its drastically reduced fleet-growth plan, Jordan says. It has cut pilot-hiring plans by half and will hire 60% fewer flight attendants than previously expected for the full year of 2024. 

The company has stopped hiring Customer Support and Services employees, and also recently announced that it will stop pilot-hiring classes on 1 April, with the exception of cadets enrolled with the Destination 225 Cadet Pathway – a collaboration with CAE. Flight attendant hiring will freeze on the same date.

“Altogether, we now plan to end the year solidly down in staffing versus 2023, compared to our prior guidance of flat-to-down,” he says. “We’re being very aggressive and controlling what we can control despite the fact that some of these changes are very recent.” 

Jordan went as far as to discuss the possibility of breaking away from being a single-type operator, while admitting that it would be a “big leap to move on from that.”

Southwest currently operates a massive all-Boeing fleet including 227 737 Max aircraft and 591 older 737NGs, according to Cirium fleets data. It holds unfilled orders for 476 Max jets.

“We have calculated the cost of transitioning to multiple fleet types, and I’ll just tell you it’s significant,” he says. “We do, on a regular basis, talk to other manufacturers and compare our options… and have very rigorous discussions with Boeing and with Airbus about what can be done here.”

Earlier during the conference, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said United was considering an order of Airbus A321neos in response to repeated delays in 737 Max 10 certification with the Federal Aviation Administration.