Southwest CEO Sees No Roadblocks to Ordering Bigger 737 Model

Southwest Airlines Co. Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said he sees no roadblocks to converting Boeing Co. 737-700 orders to larger, more fuel-efficient 737-800 models.

“The 800 is a very good airplane for the mission,” Kelly said in an interview today in Washington. “It is more cost effective than the 700 is, in many cases, for us. It allows us to seriously consider service to places like Hawaii.”

Asked whether there was anything he knew of that would stop Southwest from changing the plane orders to 800s, Kelly said, “No. In other words, as we continue to prepare our projects and our work plans, we’ve only confirmed what we believe.”

The Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association, the union for cockpit crews, is scheduled to announce tomorrow whether members approved contract terms that would allow the Dallas-based carrier to fly the 800 model. Southwest is the largest operator of Boeing 737s, the only type of aircraft it flies.

“The pilot vote is obviously a key milestone,” said Kelly, who declined to predict the outcome. “Once we have that in hand, I think virtually all the obstacles are cleared at that point, assuming that they agree.”

Kelly said he expects the airline to make a final decision next month. Southwest had said it would need to declare by tomorrow whether to convert some existing 700 orders to 800s for the planes to be delivered in 2012. Flight attendants approved contract revisions Nov. 18.

A Southwest 737-800 would have 175 seats, 28 percent more than a 737-700, the airline has said.

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