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Southwest mulls move away from Boeing in wake of 737 MAX scandal

Change could be on the horizon for Southwest's fleet of airplanes. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

Southwest Airlines may be looking beyond Boeing, as it considers ditching the company in favor of its rival, Airbus.

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Southwest’s entire fleet is made up entirely of 737s, and is the world’s largest operator of the plane. In negotiations with the flight attendant union, it appeared to be laying the groundwork for buying other planes. Back in April, the airline even visited Europe to consider investing in the Airbus A220, the company’s 737 competitor.

That being so, TEAL Group aviation industry analyst Richard Aboulafia thinks that all may be a negotiation tactic to score a settlement from Boeing in the wake of grounding the 737 MAX.

“If you’re dependent on a single supplier, it never hurts to keep them on their toes,” noted Aboulafia.

Roughly 10 percent of Southwest’s fleet is made up of 737 MAX jets, which have been grounded worldwide for months.

That has Southwest — which is entirely dependent on Boeing to supply its jets — at least consider something of a shift in the near future.

“They might just be doing contingency planning for the next generation,” said Aboulafia. “So even if the MAX is a very successful 12 or 13 year program, they got to think about what happens next.”

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“This could very well be a case of long-term jet-succession planning,” he added. “There won’t be another generation of another 737s beyond the MAX. There is also the chance that (Southwest is) hedging their bets.”

But even if Southwest does step away from Boeing’s 737, it wouldn’t spell the end of the two companies’ long-held relationship.

“The important thing to remember is that it wouldn’t be a wholesale shift to Airbus — I think the worst-case scenario is that they might consider a second type of plane as a kind of complement to the 737,” Aboulafia described.

MyNorthwest staff contributed to this report

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