Standard Disclaimer (No one really knows at this point what the recovery will look like, this is simply an educated guess)

The fleet projection used by the model is available on the fleet projections page of this website. The pilot demand model takes the existing ratio of pilots to aircraft to determine an optimum staffing ratio (this ratio may not be optimum in all environments) and applies it over time to determine the needed pilots as the fleet grows or shrinks. This is coupled with mandatory retirements and viola, an estimate of the needed pilots per year appears.

Due to the substantial negative staffing numbers, each airline is incurring in the model, the charts have been modified to carry over the negative numbers through each year until projected growth or mandatory attrition bring back (or stabilize staffing) at a net positive number. This helps to better reflect (if furloughs occur) when pilots would likely be able to come back.

So what do we know with SouthWest

  • 106 737-700s and -800s are in long-term storage. These will probably be the last aircraft to come back
  • 34 737-Max 8’s are also in long-term storage. Similar to the other long-term storage aircraft those aircraft will remain out until the grounding has been lifted (no longer a high priority) They are not really included in the model since they were previously grounded and it’s assumed SouthWest was staffed appropriately for that previous reduction.
  • A total of 390 Jets are grounded or are being rotated through on short-term storage these will likely be the first to come back.

Keep in mind when aircraft are put into long-term storage the company is committing to spending the necessary money and time to bring them out of storage, which can take days. It makes sense to do this to aircraft only when the amount of time they will be out, is long enough to justify that cost, and therefore it becomes more economical to put them in long-term storage than keep them rotating through the fleet.

This model assumes that the 106 737-700/800 stay out through 2021, and are replaced as the Max fleet begins to arrive in the following years. The average age of the SouthWest 737-700 fleet is 15.9 years with almost 500 aircraft. It’s likely that some of the 737-700 aircraft in storage will be replaced as the Max fleet arrives in the come years.

SouthWest Pilot Demand Projection

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