Wade Goodwyn / NPR
Enclosed in soft, blue, dim LED light, the Southwest Airlines Network Operations Center in Dallas looks a bit like a Hollywood set on a science fiction movie. It is the heart and mind of the largest domestic airline in the country with a 4,000 flight dance card every day. Bad weather, mechanical breakdowns, delayed flight crews, improvisation shipments performed day and night.
That day in March, when the Federal Aviation Administration said "Park all your Maxes right now", a lot of improvements required.
"We had to go in and … put things together where we could run a 35-minor flight operation," said Tim Anderson, superintendent of the Network Operation Center.
The Boeing 737 Max was grounded in the spring after two of the jets nose-dived in the ground killing nearly 350 people. The airline's most influenced by the FAA's action is Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which only flies 737s and has nearly three dozen of the new Maxes.
Southwest has kept its 35 Boeing 737 Maxes away from its base plan through Labor Day, although it is almost certain to be extended to Fall. The FAA regulators have indicated that Max could be grounded throughout the year.
Unlike United, American or Delta, Southwest does not utilize a hub-and-spoke network, but flies point-to-point instead. A Southwest jet starts the morning in Oklahoma City, flies to Dallas Love Field, then Austin, Texas, to the Houston Hobby, turns west to Phoenix followed by San Jose, California, and finishes the evening in Portland, Ore. a Max, which is 175 seats times six flights – somewhere around 1,000 passengers without aircraft that day. Multiply it by 35 Maxes and you have a creepy mess. Anderson says they had a good luck. The published flight plan, called "Base Schedule", ended in three weeks.
LM Otero / AP
"And our team that does the planning planning was able to kind of delete these flights from the books, came out with the new schedule that came out, let's say April 8," he said. "There were fewer aircraft on it."
Plan targeted routes between cities that had many flights each day and tried to pull the aircraft as average fewest passengers. These aircraft were then used to connect the holes that the Max ground had left in the carrier's schedule.
When the new baseline was in effect, Southwest could start acting instead of responding to the affected passengers in advance needed to call and rebook. Still a big hassle, but significantly less trauma than getting your plane interrupted a few hours before departure. As it was had happened in spades. Ten thousand canceled flights.
At Southwest's domestic airport, Dallas Love Field, operations have largely returned to normal. The airline has grown to such an appeal that the grounded Maxes represent only 6% of the airline's flying. How much does this southwest cost?
Bulk grounding is a "negative financial" to the southwest, says Andrew Watterson is a chief vice president and chief revenue officer.
Fewer seats mean less revenue, although fewer seats also mean that these semen prices go up. Prices are dependent on supply and demand, says Watterson, but the foundation is still a net negative. "We wish it hadn't happened."
The cost of overdue income due to grounding, weather and other factors was north of $ 200 million in the first quarter. The airline still managed to beat analysts' expectations despite all the canceled flights. But airline analysts like Helane Becker at Cowen say Max Grounding will act as a move on the carrier through the lucrative summer months. And not just southwest, either.
"We've said it's hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly as high as one billion for the airlines in America," Becker explains. "But because it is a moving target, we have not been able to quantify it specifically."