Southwest says it could add new plane type

ATLANTA Wed Mar 23, 2011 2:43am EDT

An AirTran airlines jet (C) taxis past two Southwest jets sitting at their gates at Midway International airport in Chicago September 27, 2010. REUTERS/Frank Polich

An AirTran airlines jet (C) taxis past two Southwest jets sitting at their gates at Midway International airport in Chicago September 27, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Frank Polich

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N), which currently operates a fleet of only Boeing Co (BA.N) airplanes, could one day operate different aircraft types from other makers, Southwest's chief executive said on Tuesday.

"I think what is inevitable is that the next-generation aircraft for Southwest Airlines, no matter the source, may very well be a different airplane, whether it's Boeing, whether it's Airbus, whether it's Bombardier (BBDb.TO)," Gary Kelly said during a webcast presentation at a J.P. Morgan investor conference.

Southwest currently operates Boeing 737 aircraft and expects to start taking delivery of a larger version of that plane in 2012. The carrier would add the short-haul Boeing 717 to its fleet should its acquisition of AirTran Holdings Inc AAI.N be approved.

Reiterating his desire that fuel-efficient aircraft reach the market sooner rather than later, Kelly also said his carrier did not like the timetable set out by plane makers on the availability of more fuel-efficient planes.

EADS EAD.PA unit Airbus is upgrading its A320 passenger jet with new engines that offer better fuel savings, with first delivery expected in 2016. Boeing is studying whether to upgrade its 737 with new engines or offer an all-new plane, which could take longer to deliver.

"We would like to be able to utilize the new engine technology as soon as it's available," Kelly said. (Reporting by Karen Jacobs; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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