Southwest Airlines will close its operations at Newark Liberty International Airport on 3 November 2019, consolidating its New York City service at LaGuardia. The company cited the 737 MAX grounding as part of the motivation for the move – it needs the planes elsewhere in the operation – as well as “financial results below expectations.” Southwest operates 15 daily flights at Newark today.
The cuts are the most visible effect so far of the MAX grounding for the all-737 airline, where capacity will now shrink 1-2% in 2019 rather than growing 5%. Available Seat Miles (ASMs) dropped 3.6% for the quarter while revenue passenger miles dropped 1.7%.
The carrier also removed the type from its schedules through 5 January 2020, “to provide reliability of our operation and dependability for our Customers boking their fall and holiday travel.” This puts Southwest two months past American Airlines and United Airlines in scrubbing the grounded aircraft from its schedules. Southwest anticipates “it will take us one to two months to comply with prospective FAA directives, including all necessary Pilot training” to return the planes to service once the grounding order is lifted by the FAA.
Leisure Market Growth
Not all markets are feeling the pinch of the MAX grounding, however. The first wave of Hawaii service is “robust” and Southwest will resume its growth plans to the islands in August. Sacramento and San Diego are joining the market on the mainland side while Lihue, Kauai and Hilo, Hawaii will add service in the islands. The company also plans further expansion in the market, with details to be announced “in the coming weeks and months.”
Southwest will also add its fourth destination in Mexico. The intends expects to add year-round service between Houston’s Hobby Airport and Cozumel International Airport in Q1 2020, pending government approvals.
While Southwest previously pushed aside the idea that it might bring older aircraft back into service to make up for the MAX grounding the company is tweaking its fleet plans a bit. Some of the remaining 2019 MAX deliveries are now shifted to 2020. Moreover, the company deferred the retirement of seven 737-700 aircraft. It will still retire 11 of the planes this year.
In addition to the fleet adjustments the carrier will alter its pilot hiring plans as a result of the MAX grounding. The October 2019 new hire class will be deferred to March/April 2020, owing to the shrinking fleet.
When the 737 MAX returns to service Southwest expects to return the stored aircraft to service after a couple months of maintenance work to bring them out of long-term storage. The carrier will also accept up to 3 new planes per week from Boeing’s storage.
The company does not anticipate additional simulator time for pilots once the grounding is lifted. All pilots are expected to complete any additional computer-based training within 30 days.