Alaska Airlines Moves Closer To All Boeing Fleet With MAX 9 Swap

Alaska Airlines has inched closer to an all-Boeing fleet after announcing a deal to lease 737 MAX 9 aircraft. The deal, struck with U.S lessor Air Lease Corp, will see Alaska Airlines lease 13 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes, with 10 Airbus A320s heading the other way in exchange.

Alaska 737 MAX
One of Alaska’s already-built 737 MAX jets in Seattle. Photo: Alaska Airlines

Details of the transaction

The agreement with Air Lease Corp will see 13 of the fuel-efficient 737 MAX 9 planes leased to Alaska Airlines, with the first jets set to be delivered in the 4th quarter of 2021. The latest announcement comes less than a week after the 737 MAX was recertified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Alaska Airlines has 32 737 MAX planes ordered on top of the 13 newly-leased aircraft. Photo: Boeing Newsroom

As part of the agreement, Alaska Airlines will sell 10 of its Airbus A320s to Air Lease Corp, reducing its A320 fleet to 39 planes. The airline has long sought to phase out its Airbus fleet, with the majority of its Airbus planes already grounded. Brad Tilden, Alaska Air Group Chairman and CEO, stated:

“We found an opportunity to sell 10 planes that are not in our long-term plans and replace them with 13 of the most efficient narrowbody aircraft available.”

Alaska Airlines bolsters its 737 MAX fleet

The 13 new jets acquired by Alaska Airlines are in addition to the 32 MAX planes it has already committed to ordering from Boeing. The airline plans to start passenger flights along the West Coast with newly-delivered MAX planes by March 2021, before expanding to the East Coast after a few months. Boeing and Alaska Airlines have also reportedly held discussions about increasing their 737 MAX order by a further 37 planes.

Alaska 737 MAX
Alaska Airlines will receive the first plane of its 737 MAX order by March 2021. Photo: Boeing

The airline’s fleet presently has 129 Boeing 737-family aircraft in service, with a further 37 parked. A few weeks ago, the carrier moved forward with its Airbus retirement plans as it edges closer to establishing an all-Boeing fleet. Prior to today’s announcement, Ben Minicucci, President of Alaska Airlines, made clear the carrier’s position with its Airbus fleet, stating,

“We love all of our airplanes, but the A320s are uneconomic relative to others… we can either shrink that fleet, we can extend leases, or we can replace them with something better.”

Despite this, it has remained committed to a cancellable purchase deal for 30 Airbus A320neo jets, perhaps to secure more favorable pricing on future deals. The agreement with Air Lease Corp will involve Alaska Airlines leasing back the A320s for a short period.

The planes open up new possibilities

The Boeing 737 MAX 9 offers several improvements on the Airbus A320s they are set to replace, including increased range and fuel-efficiency. The planes are 20% more fuel-efficient and reduce carbon emissions by 20% per seat compared to the A320. Additionally, the 737 MAX 9 has 600 miles more range, which opens up the possibility for new routes.

Alaska Airlines 737-MAX8 Artwork
Despite concerns for the aviation industry, Alaska Airlines is still looking forward to getting hold of its MAX planes. Photo: Boeing

While most airlines globally are fearing for their futures, Alaska Airlines has cause for optimism. The airline is uniquely positioned to make it out of the COVID crisis relatively unscathed, in part because of its extensive narrowbody fleet and strong domestic market.