When it comes to loyalty to specific aircraft, very few brands come close to Southwest’s commitment to the Boeing 737. The airline has consistently operated various 737 types ranging from the airline’s initial fleet of Boeing 737-200s to recent deliveries with the 737 MAX. However, with the MAX being the future, Southwest’s over 20-year history of welcoming new Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft had to come to an end. The airline received its final Next Generation, a Boeing 737-800, on Sunday with N8583Z (MSN 64799) being turned over to the airline in Seattle.
For Southwest, the Boeing 737-700 and 737-800 have been the workhorse for the airline and been a major part of the airline’s expansion plans. The airline first ordered 63 Boeing 737-700s in 1993 with the Dallas-based airline being the launch customer for what was, at the time, the newest Boeing 737. At the time Southwest was much smaller than the current presence, with a large portion of the carrier’s route map consisting of routes across the Southwest and Great Lakes regions of the United States.
Since then the airline has taken on 513 Boeing 737-700s and 207 Boeing 737-800s with deliveries for the -700s beginning in December 1997 and the -800s coming much later in March 2012. While the airline has taken a lot of these aircraft straight from Boeing, the airline has also taken some second-hand planes to meet demand as well as absorbing AirTran’s fleet of 737-700s into their own when they merged in 2010. While the -700s are a mix, the Boeing 737-800s have all being acquired straight from Boeing’s Renton factory, with all 207 being used to upgrade routes that the airline is finding high demand in.
For Boeing, Southwest’s commitment to the 737 has seen the Seattle-based jet maker sell more 737 Next Generation aircraft to the airline than any other customer. Southwest’s initial delivery of the 737-700 also allowed the company to work alongside Southwest to iron out and early issues that would hurt the 737NG before the aircraft was fully implemented with many different airlines.
For an aircraft that has seen two livery changes, one merger and the airline solidify itself as a major competitor in the U.S. aviation industry, the Boeing 737-700s have played a major role in developing the “Symbol of Freedom” into the airline that it is today. And the airline may still not be done with having the Next Generation aircraft start new routes, with Hawaii plans still in the works and 737-800 aircraft for Southwest being ETOPS (extended twin-engine operations) rated to handle the flight to the islands.
But while the Next Generation’s delivery chapter closes, the airline still has plans to keep the aircraft around for a long time to come while also continuing to take deliveries of the now current generation 737 MAX, with the Texas-brand already operating 16 aircraft and still in the books for over 200 MAX 7 and MAX 8 more deliveries. So while the deliveries of the Next Generations may have stopped, the 737-700 and 737-800 still have many years worth of work left with Southwest before they eventually join the 737-200, 737-300 and 737-500 in the desert.
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