US Airways’ 757 problem
US Airways has a large fleet of aging Boeing 757s it needs to replace. The problem is, a carrier official says, neither the Airbus A321neo nor the Boeing 737-9 MAX can do what needs to be done: Phoenix-Hawaii non-stop in both directions with maximum payload under all conditions.
The distance is 2,910 miles, well within the advertised range of 4,200 miles for the A321neo and 4,137 for the 9 MAX. But Derek Kerr, executive vice president and chief financial officer says fleet planners have yet to be convinced either plane can replace the 757W, which is uniquely able to handle the hot, summer conditions at Phoenix, where temperatures often soar to 110F degrees or more.
US Airways is one of only two legacy airlines in the US that has yet to order the MAX or the NEO (Delta Air Lines is the other). A year ago, US Airways CEO Doug Parker told us that the value proposition of ordering the neo still was unconvincing given the price premium sought by Airbus. Kerr told us last week that the large, outstanding order for the current generation A320 family as replacements for the oldest jets–and the lack of a true replacement for the 757–meant the airline wasn’t in a hurry to place an order for re-engined aircraft.
The merger with American Airlines, which should be consummated in the third quarter, brings with it orders for more than 400 MAX, neo and current generation A320 and 737 aircraft. Kerr says these are all replacements for American’s aging fleet and the orders will be retained. American affirmed these orders in bankruptcy court.
“The plan right now is not to change either orders, although we may change some to right-size them,” Kerr told us. “We’ll replace all older [US Airways] aircraft by 2015. US Air. The 757s still uncertain. We’re still trying to get the 321neo to go from Phoenix to Honolulu. It needs a bit more legs.”
Over at American, Kerr says most orders are to replace MD80s; no growth is planned. “The plan would be to continue all the orders and see if it is the right mix of 19s/20s/21s and 700/800/900 [and MAXes].”
Kerr says the merged fleets will allow US Airways A319s to enter American’s system where needed if analysis supports this. Accordingly, some of American’s A319ceo orders might be upgraded to larger sub-types.
US Airways is one of the remaining customers for the Airbus A350-800. Airbus has been converting -800 customers to the larger -900, which has a promised entry-into-service date of mid-2014. Some customers we’ve talked to believe EIS will be closer to the end of the year. With pressure on the program–including the decision to drop the lithium-ion batteries in the wake of the Boeing 787 issues and swap to nickel-cadium batteries–resources are concentrating on the -900 and its first flight, perhaps in June. Airbus wants to de-risk the program by switching customers to the -900 and relieving pressure on the engineers and supply chain.
Kerr acknowledged Airbus wants US Airways to switch. The airline has the -800 and the -900 on order and he said it plans to take both. “They want to build 900/1000/800 [in that order, vs the planned -900/800/1000 sequence]. Under a stand-alone US Airways, the -800 works better for us but under American Airlines, the -900 may be better.”