During the American Airlines 3rd quarter earnings call in late October a projection for growth in 2020 was shared of 5%. A third of that comes from the expected return of the Boeing 737 MAX, and much of it comes from ‘densification’ – adding seats to Boeing 737-800 aircraft (from 160 up to 172 seats per plane) and Airbus A321s as well.
Each month American Airlines senior executives meet with employees for a question and answer session they call ‘Crew News’. At the latest Crew News session airline CEO Doug Parker opened with his take on the current state of the airline, which was very similar to comments he offered during the earnings call and two weeks ago in his presentation at the Baird 2019 Global Industrial Conference.
However, after talking about getting new gates at Dallas Fort-Worth during 2019 that allowed them to grow their peak day summer schedule to 900 flights (and over 1000 flights the Sunday after Thanksgiving thanks to an additional middle of the night bank of flying) and new gates this coming year in Charlotte, he added:
We’re gonna grow everywhere by the way, it’s not just, as the MAXs come back that results in growth throughout the system. …It should come in at nicely efficient cost because again we’re already paying for a lot of these airplanes, the 737 MAXs. Point one. Point two we’re going to run a better operation. That means fewer cancellations. That’s growth in terms of capacity and it’s very low cost growth because it’s very expensive to cancel flights.
…We said on our call 5% growth into 2020 versus 2019. That number kind of had a worst case scenario on the 737 MAXs. I think it may be a little higher than that. If we were to have that call again today we’d probably say 5 to 6 percent growth. We’ll get the best number we know as the MAXs come back, but higher growth than we’ve seen at American Airlines since the merger.
The higher rate of growth in the airline’s seat capacity next year comes from moving forward when they expect the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again. Parker, of course, has been overly optimistic on the return of the MAX before, suggesting re-certification of the plane was ‘really close’ back in May.