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One US airline will likely bear brunt of Boeing 737 Max grounding

Business Insider logo Business Insider 3/18/2019 Mark Matousek

Southwest Airlines will face greater logistical challenges after the grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft than United Airlines and American Airlines, the other United States airlines who use the aircraft, said Henry Harteveldt, the founder of the travel research company Atmosphere Research Group.

"It will be a far more complicated process for Southwest Airlines, given its route structure, than American or United," Harteveldt said.

American and United use a hub-and-spoke model to organize their flight schedules, which means planes are more likely to return to a central hub after a given flight than in Southwest's "point-to-point" model, under which a plane is more likely to fly to multiple cities without returning to its prior location. 

A plane operating for United, for example, may fly from Chicago to Boston, then return to Chicago before flying to Atlanta. But a Southwest plane could fly from Houston to New Orleans to Tampa to Baltimore without returning to a central hub.

Southwest's model gives it greater flexibility than American and United, but it makes the logistics involved in compensating for a grounded aircraft more complex.

"For United and American, their route structures are a lot more streamlined. For Southwest, these point-to-point flights create more complexity, but the business benefit to Southwest is it lets them serve more people more ways," Harteveldt said.

Southwest did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued on Wednesday an order grounding all Boeing 737 Max aircraft in the United States, following two deadly crashes involving the aircraft in five months. The first, an October 2018 crash of a Lion Air flight, killed 189 people. The second, an Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10, killed all 157 people on board.

Preliminary results from investigations into the crashes have suggested similarities between the two. Investigators are looking into the possible role played in each crash by software that points an aircraft's nose downward if the plane is flying at too steep an incline.

Related video: Take a ride on Southwest Airline's first flight to Hawaii (provided by USA Today)

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If you've worked for Boeing and have a story to share, contact this reporter at mmatousek@businessinsider.com. 

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