An Alaska Airlines Airbus A320 acquired in a merger with Virgin America.
Angel DiBilio.Shutterstock.comAlaska Airlines is acquiring 13 additional Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft in a deal that will also see the sale of 10 Airbus A320 jets.
The FAA ungrounded the Boeing 737 Max on November 18 following a 20-month evaluation that still has flyers saying they won't fly on it.
Alaska will grow its 737 Max 9 fleet to 45 aircraft with the new order from Air Lease Corporation.
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Alaska Airlines announced a leasing deal for more Boeing 737 Max aircraft on Monday just days following the end of a 20-month grounding by the Federal Aviation Administration after two fatal crashes.
The deal sees Alaska leasing 13 new 737 Max 9 aircraft from Air Lease Corporation and selling 10 Airbus A320 jets to the leasing company.
"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 narrow-body aircraft available," Brad Tilden, Alaska Air Group chairman and CEO, said in a statement that failed to mention the grounding of the jet or the safety concerns expressed by the public.
Touting the benefits of the Max over the A320, however, Alaska cited the 20% increase in fuel efficiency and 600-mile increase in range that the Boeing jet has over Airbus' best-selling narrow-body. A new informational page on Alaska's website states that the airline plans to use the jet on transcontinental services to the East Coast and Hawaii, where the cost savings will be more pronounced.
Read more: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population — and airline CEOs say it's proof that flying is safe
The A320s, for their part, won't be leaving the fleet just yet as Alaska will temporarily lease the aircraft from Air Lease Corporation for an unspecified term. Once concluded, the deal leaves Alaska with 39 Airbus A320s and 10 Airbus A321neos, having retired its fleet of A319s over the summer.
Alaska Airlines would have been the fourth US airline behind American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines to fly the 737 Max until the March 2019 grounding further pushed back the inaugural flight.
The order for 32 Max 9 jets, based on the 737-900 NG aircraft that Alaska also flies, was slated to perfectly complement Alaska's predominantly 737 fleet as the additional training required for 737 pilots to fly it was minimal.
With this new order, Alaska's total number of jets on order grows to 45 aircraft.
Economics over customer opinion
Travelers, however, still say they don't want to fly on it, despite the rigorous scrutiny over its return to service. In an unofficial Morning Brew poll, a majority of respondents say they wouldn't fly on a Max, mirroring a March 2019 Business Insider poll that said 53% of Americans wouldn't fly on the aircraft either. A June 2019 poll by UBS also found that 41% of Americans wouldn't fly on a Max plane for at least six months.
But now that the jet is ungrounded, airlines are looking to get more in their fleets as quickly as possible. The pandemic has airlines undoubtedly looking to take advantage of the jet's cost-efficiency while Boeing and leasing companies are likely offering attractive pricing to clear a backlog filled with canceled orders.
Southwest Airlines, just a week before the jet's return to service, was reportedly looking to acquire 737 Max "white-tails," or jets that were built but lost their original customer. Boeing lost orders in the initial aftermath of the grounding with more cancellations coming in during the pandemic, including most recently from Air Canada.
The Canadian flag carrier announced in its most recent earnings report that orders for 10 737 Max 8 jets would be canceled. A major 737 Max customer, Air Canada had planned to use its jets for trans-border and transatlantic flying to Europe.
The Evergreen State duo
Alaska's commitment to the Max comes the airline hasn't even taken delivery of one yet. The first 737 Max 9 was supposed to arrive in time for the summer of 2019, according to a press release issued a month before the aircraft's worldwide grounding, but will now come in January 2021 with the first flights starting on March 1, 2021, between Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, according to Cirium data.
By trading the Airbus planes for the Boeings, Alaska gets closer to the all-Boeing fleet that it had before 2016. The Airbus jets were always outsiders in the Alaska fleet, interlopers in a "proudly all-Boeing" family that came as the product of a merger with Virgin America.
The Seattle-based bought a larger presence in Los Angeles and San Francisco through the sale to become the West Coast's hometown airline. The ex-Virgin America Airbus A320 family jets were also part of the deal and brought into the Alaska family with new paint jobs and retrofitted interiors to give the look of a combined Alaska Airlines family.
But as they weren't Boeing, it was evident they wouldn't last long and the airline had been quietly shedding its Airbus fleet throughout 2020, as CH-Aviation reports. Alaska had reported in October filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was looking to retire the 10 owned aircraft, with this deal getting the airline closer to doing just that.
If there's one thing that Boeing, the 737 Max, and Alaska Airlines all have in common, it's a home in Washington. The troubled jet, after all, is built in Renton, Washington at one of Boeing's oldest production facilities, just five miles away from Alaska's primary hub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Alaska is expecting the leased planes to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2021 into 2022.
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