The A320neo vs 737 MAX – What Will Alaska Airlines Order Next?

Alaska Airlines is in need of a significant fleet refresh to replace its ex-Virgin America Airbus A319/A320s. But it has a dilemma – whether to choose the Airbus A320neo or the Boeing 737 MAX.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737
Alaska Airlines needs to choose between the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320neo (Boeing 737 MAX not pictured). Photo: Marco Verch via Flickr

While Alaska Airlines isn’t a big airline by American standards, it’s pretty large compared to most airlines around the world.

In total, Alaska Airlines operates an active fleet of 237 aircraft, 61 of which it inherited from Virgin America after it acquired the airline back in December 2016.

The 61 ex-Virgin America aircraft now operated by Alaska Airlines are all Airbus A319/A320s. But this caused a bit of an issue for Alaska Airlines, as it had previously operated a Boeing-only fleet.

Now, the fleet of ex-Virgin America Airbus A319/A320s are in need of replacement, specifically before 2024. But what should Alaska Airlines do now?

Virgin America Airbus A319-112
Alaska Airlines received 61 aircraft from Virgin America. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr

The Boeing 737 MAX

Alaska Airlines has two options to move forward with its narrow-body fleet renewal it wants to get a latest-generation aircraft with maximum fuel and cost-efficiency.

As reported by The Points Guy, Alaska Airlines’ chief financial officer, Shane Tackett, highlighted the airline’s motivations for a fleet refresh.

“We have an opportunity to replace 61 A319 and A320 aircraft with larger gauge, more efficient assets… [that] would give us the ability to generate more revenue while lower unit cost,” he said during an earnings call earlier this week.

The first option is the Boeing 737 MAX which, as we are all aware, comes with a long list of drawbacks. Alaska Airlines actually already has a sizeable order of 32 Boeing 737 MAX on the books, but there’s no real indication of when they may finally arrive.

Many airlines have removed the Boeing 737 MAX from their schedules until the middle of this year, and the recertification process appears to be coming up against new hurdles regularly.

As a result, another big new order for the type would be a significant gamble for Alaska Airlines. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Boeing 737 MAX, new orders for the type have dropped off a cliff. Alaska Airlines would be bucking an industry-wide trend of holding off on new orders for the Boeing 737 MAX.

On the other hand, new Boeing 737 MAX would likely be available at a significant discount if and when the type is recertified.

Getty images boeing 737 MAx groundings
Hundreds of Boeing 737 MAX remain grounded around the world. Photo: Getty Images

The Airbus A320neo

Alaska Airlines’ second option is the Airbus A320neo, which would be a move away from its ‘all Boeing’ fleet.

Although the airline has been operating Airbus types on lease, full-time Alaska Airlines pilots and staff would have to go through significant retraining to fly the Airbus A320neo.

But, like the Boeing 737 MAX, Alaska Airlines technically already has a sizeable order for the Airbus A320neo which it took over from Virgin America after the acquisition deal.

Unless it cancels its commitment to this order, Alaska Airlines will be taking delivery of 30 Airbus A320neos between 2022 and 2024 anyway.

Ultimately, Alaska Airlines will have to weigh up the risk of further issues with the Boeing 737 MAX versus the inconvenience it would experience if it took on the Airbus A320neo.