Southwest Airlines plans to retire its Boeing 737-300 fleet by the end of the decade, says Jim Sokol, the carrier’s vice-president maintenance operations on the sidelines of the MRO Americas conference in Phoenix.

Southwest says it will start removing its 737-300s in 2016. The whole fleet will be retired by 2019 or 2020, says Sokol.

The airline is in the midst of implementing a structural modification programme on its youngest 737 classics to avoid unscheduled maintenance events in the next few years before they reach retirement, he says.

The airline’s 78 youngest 737-300s are undergoing modifications to replace the “upper crown portion of the skin panel,” says Sokol. The modification entails replacing about 12 skin panels on the upper portion of the fuselage and some window belt panels, he says. The carrier plans to complete these modifications by November, he says.

“You take the non-routine maintenance and turn it into routine maintenance to give you better reliability,” says Sokol.

That leaves a balance of 59 older 737-300s that will not receive these modifications and begin leaving the fleet in 2016. These aircraft will not be updated with the airline’s Evolve interior, a modification that the younger portion of the fleet has already undergone.

Southwest says it also plans to remove three of its 737-500s starting this year with the remaining 12 aircraft leaving in 2016.

The airline is also in the midst of transferring 88 Boeing 717s to Delta Air Lines. Southwest transferred 13 of these aircraft in 2013 and plans to deliver another 48 to Delta by the end of December. The remaining 27 aircraft will go to Delta in 2015.

Southwest has also converted 21 of subsidiary AirTran Airways’ next-generation Boeing 737s to its own metal as it completes post-merger integrations. The carrier plans to convert all of the aircraft to Southwest colours by the end of this year.

Source: Cirium Dashboard