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Alaska Airlines has a new batch of aircraft on order. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the Seattle-based carrier had finalized a deal to acquire nearly two dozen Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft, bolstering the strength of its narrowbody-only fleet. Pricing on the deal was not disclosed.
Back before Alaska bought west coast rival Virgin America, Seattle’s hometown carrier operated a midrange fleet of entirely Boeing aircraft, though its regional partners at Horizon and SkyWest dipped into Bombardier and Embraer territory. Operating a single fleet helped streamline maintenance (Southwest Airlines uses the same approach) and also paid tribute to Boeing, which manufactures many of the aircraft locally.
With Virgin America in the picture, however, more color came into Alaska’s fleet. Based out of San Francisco, Virgin America’s fleet offered service solely on Airbus narrowbodies, relying on a dozen A319s and over 50 A320s to maintain operations. And when Alaska acquired Virgin America in 2016, that fleet merged into Alaska’s network.
Now, over four years after the merger, Alaska’s fleet appears to once more be leaning back into Boeing territory on multiple levels. According to The Points Guy, the discussion on whether to replace Virgin America’s aircraft surfaced as early as January of this year when Alaska’s EVP of planning and strategy pointed out that the company needed to make a decision on how to upgrade the aging fleet.
Since then, small transactions have whitted down the carrier’s Airbus fleet while Boeing aircraft have crept in.
In November, CH-Aviation reports that 10 of Alaska’s A320s, which were on lease from Air Lease Corporation, were being exchanged for 13 Boeing 737-9s. Now, Alaska is committing to add another 23 737 MAX 9 orders to an already outsanding order of 32 aircraft. The carrier also has an option to acquire an additional 52 737 MAX 9 aircraft.
Alaska’s commitment is a major win for Boeing, which is working to restore confidence in the 737 MAX family of aircraft after a lengthly grounding and review process. Following the crash of two if its aircraft in early 2019, orders and deliveries for the MAX aircraft have stagnated. IAG, the parent company of British Airways, Iberia and a handful of other European carriers, put in an order of 200 aircraft in the summer of 2019, but since then, only Alaska has stepped back into the ring.
Further expansion into Boeing territory also appears to be starting the end of the Airbus era at Alaska. In a release this morning, Alaska directly shared that “the 737-9 will replace all A319 and A320 aircraft in Alaska’s fleet to improve the airline’s overall operational, financial and environmental performance. With this plan, Alaska will reduce its Airbus fleet to 10 A321neos by the summer of 2023.” By the summer of 2023, it’s likely that those orphan A321neos will also have an exit plan.