American Airlines sets end date for A321, 737 'Project Oasis' updates
American Airlines has an end date for when it should be done reconfiguring the cabins on its Airbus A321 and Boeing 737-800 jets.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier plans to wrap up the "Project Oasis" updates to its 304 737-800s by April 2021, and to its 202 former US Airways A321s a year later in April 2022, said American senior vice-president of revenue Don Casey during a quarterly earnings call on Thursday. This is about a year behind the original schedule it laid out in 2017.
The work harmonizes the cabin configurations across American's A321 and 737 fleets. The A321s go to 190 seats from as few as 181 seats, and the 737-800s to 172 seats -- the same as on the 737 MAX 8 -- from 160 seats. The changes will both reduce operational complexity and allow the airline to grow capacity without adding aircraft, according to executives.
The new completion timelines come after American temporarily paused work on the 737s, and delayed beginning work on the A321s, in the months following the MAX grounding last March.
Reconfiguration work has resumed, even though the MAX grounding continues to drag on. At the beginning of 2019, the airline had planned to be flying 40 MAX 8s by year-end -- none of which are in the air, with Boeing saying a return-to-service by mid-2020 is likely.
American CEO Doug Parker suggested Thursday that a return to the skies is not likely until “late summer or early fall" at the soonest.
“We’re not going to delay the line due to the MAX, we’re going to keep them going," said Robert Isom, president of American, when asked whether the Oasis timeline could be delayed further if the MAX remains grounded.
American is making other adjustments to make up for the lack of the MAX. Flights on the grounded jet are being removed from schedules further out, allowing the carrier to "revenue manage the airline to a more predictable capacity base," said network guru Vasu Raja on Thursday.
At the same time, the airline willingly admits that its plans to grow capacity by 4-5% year-over-year in 2020 will change depending on when the MAX returns to service. American continues to focus on growing its Charlotte (CLT) hub this year, the mid-innings of a three-year growth plan at its most profitable hubs, which also include Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and Washington Reagan National (DCA).
"American's execution throughout 2020 will be key with no room for excuses... in order to shift the narrative from operational struggles and ceding share to the positive [story]," wrote Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth in a report Thursday.
What American is not changing -- and may not need to with other improvements -- is its non-MAX fleet plans. The airline will retire its fleet of 20 Embraer E190s by the end of summer, and remove 11 Boeing 767-300ERs by year-end. Both changes were in the works well before the MAX grounding, and continue to move forward in spite of it.
"We will make adjustments based on what we hear from Boeing," said Isom when asked if the fleet plans could be modified.
Not including the MAX, American plans to take delivery of one used Airbus A319, 18 Airbus A321neos -- including five deliveries that were delayed last year -- and 12 Boeing 787-8s to replace the 767s.
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