Strike-driven delays in the delivery of new Boeing 737s has apparently forced Brazilian carrier Gol to postpone the phase out of its 737-300 fleet.

Gol today unveiled a new fleet and capacity plan that shows the low-cost carrier will end 2008 with 11 fewer 737-700/800s than previously planned but 11 more 737-300s.

The carrier, in releasing its last fleet plan in August, said it would complete the phase out of its 737-300s by the end of 2008, giving it an all 737 next-generation fleet. But today Gol says that while its fleet "will be mostly comprised of 737 NGs" by the end of 2008, it will not be entirely comprised of 737 NGs until the end of 2009.

Gol, however, does not say exactly when in 2009 it will retire its last 737-300.

According to the new fleet plan released today, Gol will end 2008 with a total of 104 aircraft consisting of 11 737-300s, 38 737-700s and 55 737-800s. The plan released in August also had Gol ending the year with 104 aircraft but consisting of zero 737-300s, 40 737-700s and 64 737-800s.

This indicates the postponement in the delivery of two 737-700s and nine 737-800s from the last four months of 2008 until 2009. Gol does not cite in its statement the two-month Boeing machinist strike, which ended at the beginning of this month. But the strike has caused significant postponements in deliveries for all 737 customers and, as Gol has been taking delivery of new 737s this year at a faster rate than any other carrier, it is not surprising it has been significantly impacted by the strike.

As a result of the changes to the fleet plan for 2009, Gol now expects to increase domestic capacity by only 6% next year. Gol, which acquired Varig successor VRG last year and last month began operating the two carriers as one entity, previously projected domestic growth of about 7% to 8%.

As Gol has pushed back replacing nine 737-300s with larger 737-800s from 2008 to 2009 there also will be an impact on its fourth quarter 2008 capacity. Gol now says its domestic capacity will be down 1% in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the third quarter this year. In its previous capacity plan, released in August, Gol was planning to increase capacity by 1% in the fourth quarter compared to the third quarter.

While Gol has pushed back the delivery of several new aircraft, perhaps taking advantage of the strike to adjust its capacity downwards, it has not cancelled any of its outstanding 737 orders. In fact by the end of 2009, Gol will have caught up to its original 737 delivery schedule.

From 2010 through 2013, Gol plans to continue to take delivery of at least 10 new Boeing 737s per year. Some of these will be used for growth while others will be used to replace older 737-800s that were not equipped with the short takeoff performance (SFP) kit.

In 2013 Gol plans to phase out its last non-SFP 737-800 and end the year with 96 SFP 737-800s along with 40 737-700s. In 2014, the last year in its newly released fleet plan, Gol will take delivery of a final four 737-800 SFP aircraft, giving it at a fleet of 100 737-800 SFP aircraft and 40 737-700s.

Meanwhile, the last minute delay in the retirement of 11 Gol 737-300ss should be a relief to their lessors.

Gol vice president technical Fernando Rockert de Magalhães told ATI in September the carrier had 15 737-300s remaining in the fleet, down from 27 at the beginning of this year, and the last 737-300 would exit the fleet in December. At the time, Gol, according to Rockert, had already completed early return deals with leasing companies for five of the remaining aircraft and expected to soon complete a deal with the leasing company that owns the other 10.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news