Southwest Airlines helps to launch the Boeing 737 MAX 7

Boeing (Chicago) and Southwest Airlines (Dallas) announced today the launch of the 737 MAX 7, the third member of the 737 MAX family. The carrier and launch customer for the 737 MAX program became the first airline to order the 737 MAX 7, when it converted 30 existing orders for Next-Generation 737s into orders for the 737 MAX 7.

Southwest also exercised options to add five more Next-Generation 737-800s to its fleet. These airplanes, along with the 737 MAX 7s, are part of Southwest’s ongoing effort to improve fuel efficiency and profitability. The 737 MAX 7 supports Southwest’s expanding fleet modernization effort. Southwest is expected to take its first 737 MAX 7 delivery in 2019.

“We are thrilled to announce that Southwest Airlines and Boeing have entered into an agreement for Southwest to be the launch customer for the Boeing MAX 7 series, with deliveries beginning in 2019,” said Gary C. Kelly, Southwest Airlines Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO. “The 737 MAX 7 builds on the strengths of today’s Next-Generation 737-700, incorporating the latest CFM International LEAP-1B engines is expected to reduce fuel burn and CO2 emissions by an additional 12 percent over today’s most fuel-efficient single-aisle airplane.”

The 737 MAX 7 (below) brings the most advanced engine technologies to the world’s best-selling airplane, building on the strengths of today’s Next-Generation 737-700. The 110-ft long airplane incorporates the latest CFM International LEAP-1B engines to deliver improved efficiency with the most reliability and passenger comfort in the single-aisle market. The 737 MAX 7 also will extend the range over today’s 737-700 by approximately 400 nautical miles (741 km).

Etihad 777 flight

Image: Boeing.

“Southwest has been a valued partner in the evolution of the 737 program,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner. “We have worked together to launch several models of the 737 including the 737 MAX family in 2011. We are excited to bring the 737 MAX 7 to market with Southwest.”

With the MAX 7 conversions and exercised options for 737-800s, Southwest’s unfilled orders consist of 180 737 MAX airplanes and 137 Next-Generation 737s. The 737 MAX now has orders for 1,315 airplanes.

In other news, Southwest Airlines’ Board of Directors, at its meeting held today, significantly increased the Company’s quarterly dividend to $.04 per share from $.01 per share.  Annualized, this amounts to over $100 million.  The increase in the quarterly dividend will begin with the 147th consecutive quarterly dividend declared today to Shareholders of record at the close of business on June 5, 2013 on all shares then issued and outstanding.  The dividend will be paid on June 26, 2013.  The Board also increased the Company’s existing $1 billion share repurchase authorization to $1.5 billion.  Of the remaining share repurchase authorization, an initial $250 million of Southwest common stock will be repurchased under an accelerated stock repurchase program.

Gary C. Kelly, Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO, stated: “Over the past 24 months, we have returned over 20 percent of our operating cash flows, or approximately $770 million, to Shareholders through share repurchases and dividends. I am pleased to announce several actions taken today by our Board that follow through with our commitment to deploy free cash flow1 to our Shareholders. The Board authorized an increase in our quarterly dividend payment to $.04 per share from $.01 per share.  Based on yesterday’s closing stock price of $13.98, this would provide an approximate one percent annual dividend yield to our Shareholders.  The Board also increased our existing $1 billion share repurchase authorization to $1.5 billion.  To date, $725 million in share repurchases of the $1.5 billion authorization have been completed since August 2011.  This means we have the authority to repurchase an additional $775 million of our common stock.  We intend to execute an agreement today to repurchase $250 million of our shares under an accelerated stock repurchase program, which, upon implementation, will immediately bring shares back into the Company.

Top Copyright Photo: Brian McDonough/ With this announcement, Southwest exercised options to add five more Next-Generation 737-800s to its growing fleet. Boeing 737-8H4 WL N8308K (msn 36682) arrives at Washington (Reagan National).

Southwest Airlines: AG Slide Show