On Monday, Alaska Airlines received the first of 13 new Boeing 737 MAX jets from Air Lease Corporation (ALC) on long-term lease. This delivery is part of a lease agreement announced late last year with ALC that Alaska leveraged to reduce its Airbus A320 fleet in favor of more MAX jets.
Alaska takes a new Boeing 737 MAX
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines took a brand new Boeing 737 MAX 9 on Monday on lease from Air Lease Corporation. While this is not the first 737 MAX for Alaska, it is the first from a major deal Alaska signed to accelerate its Airbus retirements.
According to data from RadarBox.com, the aircraft, registered as N921AK, flew from Seattle’s Boeing Field (BFI) to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC), which is the largest airport in the carrier’s namesake state. It is also a hub for Alaska Airlines.
This is the seventh 737 MAX 9 to enter Alaska’s fleet and comes as the carrier continues to push forward with its fleet renewal plan that puts a heavy focus on the MAX. It still has a healthy order book for the MAX.
The deal with ALC
In November 2020, Alaska Airlines and ALC announced plans for the carrier to take 13 new MAX 9s from ALC while Alaska will sell ten Airbus A320s to ALC and lease them back for a short period of time.
The sale-and-leaseback of the Airbus A320s is a temporary measure designed to limit the crunch on Alaska’s fleet as it awaits more of its preferred aircraft: the Boeing 737 MAX. Alaska’s Airbus A320 fleet is relatively young, at around ten years old, which means they could still find life at another airline.
Alaska had been looking at ways to remove the Airbus A320 from its fleet while adding the 737 MAX without taking a significant hit on A320 impairments and paying a substantial sum for brand new aircraft. The leasing agreement with ALC, coming during a time of crisis, likely provided both parties with a win. When ALC gets the aircraft back, it will likely be able to find a new home for them with comparatively less difficulty than other used jets.
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Alaska’s fleet renewal
Under the nose of some of Alaska’s aircraft, you can find the words “Proudly All Boeing.” This is where Alaska is aiming to be. Post-merger with Virgin America, the airline inherited the Airbus fleet.
While Alaska did take some new Airbus planes Virgin had on order, it has 30 Airbus A320neo aircraft purchase commitments – which are cancelable – and it does not have plans to take any more Airbus aircraft. It did not purchase any more Airbus jets since the merger.
The Airbus A319s are gone and the A320s will be gone by the end of 2023. However, Alaska still will not be at an all-Boeing fleet. It has 10 Airbus A321neos flying, and these planes are critical on some transcontinental routes where they offer more seating and better performance than a MAX in markets like Washington D.C. (DCA).
Keeping a fleet of 10 A321neos around is certainly not ideal, and it is an inefficiency Alaska wants to do without. It does not have the perfect exit strategy for these aircraft, nor does it necessarily have the right jet to replace them. Once Boeing presents Alaska with something to fit the bill, the story could change. Perhaps it could be the 737 MAX 10, but time will tell.