What To Expect From Alaska Airline’s 737 MAX Fleet

After a torrid two years, there are signs the Boeing 737 MAX program is getting back onto its feet. Helping to resurrect the program are a couple of sizable orders over December. This includes an order earlier today from Alaska Airlines. The Seattle-based airline expects to fly passengers on its first MAX by March. However, before then, Alaska Airlines plans to put the plane through its paces.

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Alaska Airlines today ordered a further 23 Boeing 737 MAXs. Photo: Boeing

Alaska Airlines reaffirms its faith in the 737 MAX

Earlier today, Alaska Airlines announced an order for 23 further Boeing 737 MAXs. If Alaska Airlines takes up all its options, they could fly 120 of the aircraft type. That’s in line with the airline’s professed faith in the MAX and a plan to transition to an all Boeing fleet.

Alaska Airlines says its first MAX plane, a MAX 9 model, is expected early next year. That plane is due to begin flying fare-paying passengers in March 2021. But it won’t be as simple as Alaska Airlines picking up the keys and rolling the plane up to the jetbridge. The airline plans to put every new plane through a tough series of proving tests.

“Before the MAX is added to our fleet, our team of pilots, maintenance technicians, and safety experts will put the plane through its paces,” says Alaska Airlines in a statement.

“We’ve been closely testing, verifying, and implementing all the necessary processes to ensure the MAX aircraft meets our high safety standards.

“At Alaska, safety is always priority number one. If an aircraft is not safe, we won’t fly it.”

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Alaska Airlines says it will spend six weeks testing each new 737 MAX. Photo: Boeing

Alaska Airlines to put the 737 MAX through its paces

Alaska Airlines is confident the 737 MAX is safe. That confidence is a welcome morale booster for Boeing. After selling just two MAXs all year, Santa is now delivering for Boeing and the 737 MAX program. Today’s sale follows a blockbuster sale of 75 MAXs to Ryanair earlier in December. But convincing the traveling public to board a 737 MAX is another story. Alaska Airlines is pulling out all stops to persuade cautious passengers the plane is safe.

“I’ve had the opportunity to stay very close to the FAA and Boeing through the grounding and recertification of the 737 MAX. I’m very confident with all the steps the FAA and Boeing have taken and the steps we’re taking at Alaska to prepare us to bring this aircraft into our fleet safely,” shared Max Tidwell, Alaska Airlines Vice President of Safety & Security in the statement.

Upon receipt of new aircraft, Alaska Airlines has what it calls a service readiness timeline. This maps out the steps to take before any new plane enters service. The airline expects it to take about six weeks between delivery and any 737 MAX entering into service. In that time, there will be rigorous rounds of test flying, verifying, and preparing.

“We will spend a lot of time with our first MAX aircraft before it’s put into service. Our pilots will fly it more than 50 flight hours and roughly 19,000 miles on what are called proving flights to confirm our safety assessments and ensure a full understanding of the airplane’s capabilities in different climates and terrain,” added the Alaska Airlines in the release.

That will include flights within Alaska, over to Hawaii, up and down the West Coast, and across the North American continental landmass.

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Alaska Airlines plans to transition to an all Boeing fleet. Photo: Alaska Airlines

Proving flights to give pilots the chance to validate systems and performance

FAA representatives will be onboard to supervise and confirm that Alaska Airlines can safely operate the 737 MAX. The airline says the flights will give their pilots the opportunity to validate several factors. This includes the operational performance of the MAX and to see for themselves that the plane is safe. Second, the flights will allow pilots to validate Alaska Airlines pioneered technology called “Required Navigation Performance.” This technology allows an aircraft to fly safer and more reliable approaches and landings. Third, pilots will perform flight checks and validate procedures, such as working with ground teams. Finally, there will be nighttime flying, GPS, and navigation testing.

After a rocky couple of years, the 737 MAX program appears to be getting back onto its feet. United States carriers are certainly throwing their weight behind the plane. Most MAX operators are planning to resume 737 MAX flights soon. Alaska Airlines is no exception, buying more planes and publically supporting the MAX program and Boeing. Ironically, the beleaguered plane is proving a bright spot for Boeing as 2020 ends. Whether the traveling public shares the confidence of Alaska Airlines and other MAX operators is another question.

What do you think? Are you keen to board a 737 MAX? Is Alaska Airlines not doing enough to prove the MAXs safety, or is it overkill? Post a comment and let us know.

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