In the wake of the two fatal 737 MAX crashes, the leadership of the Southwest Airlines pilots union raised a shocking question Friday in a note to its members: Whether Southwest, by far Boeing’s largest 737 customer, should remain an all-Boeing airline.
Southwest created the original low-cost carrier model for airlines, operating a uniform fleet of 737 jets and gaining economies that enabled it to challenge the big U.S. legacy airlines.
Buying from only one manufacturer has been a central tenet of Southwest’s business plan since founder Herb Kelleher bought his first 737s in 1971.
Today, Southwest is the largest operator of 737s, with more than 730 in its fleet — including 34 MAXs currently stranded on the ground in Victorville, Calif.
That the pilot union of such a devoted and important customer is even raising the question of buying planes from another manufacturer is the latest disturbing development for Boeing from the MAX tragedies.
Whether it’s a serious proposal or just a reflection of anger at Boeing, designed to make the manufacturer take notice, it’s not a question anyone at Southwest could raise lightly.
If Southwest were to buy Airbus jets, shock waves would ripple from Dallas through Chicago to Seattle.
It would not only hit Boeing’s business profoundly but would also have enormous cost implications for Southwest.
The airline declined Friday to comment on the pilot-union memo, as did Boeing.