Southwest Airlines says its decision to add the Boeing 737-800 into its fleet has taken another step forward with the board of directors for...

Southwest Airlines says its decision to add the Boeing 737-800 into its fleet has taken another step forward with the board of directors for the Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association (SWAPA) unanimously approving a tentative agreement reached with the company on a new pilot contract that would allow the airline to operate the larger 737 version.

SWAPA represents all of Southwest Airlines’ pilots, with its membership numbering more than 5,800 pilots. The tentative agreement agreed by the union’s leadership will now be presented to the full SWAPA membership for a ratification vote.


“Two months ago, we initiated discussions with both our flight attendants and pilots as part of our contractual requirements to operate the -800,” says Mike Van de Ven, Southwest Airlines’ executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Today, I want to congratulate both SWAPA and TWU 556, the union that represents our flight attendants, for recognizing the potential longterm benefits associated with adding the -800 to our fleet. We are still evaluating the needs for training, scheduling, aircraft configuration, and other regulatory considerations, but this is an important step in the due diligence process.”

In addition to Southwest Airlines' other environmental initiatives and its testing of a specially outfitted Boeing 737-700 'green plane', all of the airline's 737s eventually will have blended winglets. These reduce drag on the aircraft while it is flying and thus cut fuel burn and CO2 emissions by as much as 7 per cent during a flight

If the new tentative SWAPA deal is approved by a majority vote of the pilots, their current contract will be extended by one year, becoming amendable on August 31, 2012. The new deal will also include the potential for wage-rate increases based on the company’s financial performance, according to Southwest Airlines.

Last month, the executive board of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 556, representing more than 9,700 Southwest flight attendants, unanimously approved a tentative agreement reached with the company on a new flight-attendant contract which would permit Southwest to operate the 737-800. The tentative agreement is currently being presented to all members of TWU 556 for a ratification vote.

Southwest Airlines is also in the process of seeking regulatory approvals for its proposed acquisition of AirTran Airways. If the deal obtains government approval to go ahead and leaves the two carriers’ networks substantially intact, it would leave the two carriers – which would be combined under the Southwest Airlines name and operating certificate – with outstanding firm orders for at least 175 Boeing 737-700s. It is possible that Southwest could convert some, or many, of these to orders for the bigger and more expensive 737-800 without penalty.