With the FAA having recently recertified the Boeing 737 MAX for commercial service in the USA, American carriers are considering its reintroduction. American Airlines has already relaunched the type, whereas other carriers, such as Southwest, are not as rushed. Alaska Airlines can also be filed under this category, given that none of its MAX aircraft have been delivered yet. But when might the first MAX arrive at the carrier?
An ever-expanding order
Since placing an initial order of 20 Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 17 MAX 9 aircraft in October 2012, Alaska Airlines has added and swapped further examples of Boeing’s next-generation narrowbody jetliner on multiple occasions. Its most recent addition was a further 23 MAX 9 aircraft earlier this month.
This brought its total for the type up to 120 orders and options. Specifically, Alaska Airlines has firm orders for 68 aircraft, and a further 52 options. All of the 68 firm orders are for the MAX 9, with the initial MAX 8s having been swapped out in favor of the larger variant. Boeing lists the MAX 9’s principal technical specifications as follows:
- Length – 42.16 meters.
- Wingspan – 35.9 meters.
- Capacity – 178-193 passengers (two class) / 220 (maximum).
- Range – 6,570 km / 3,550 NM (with an auxiliary fuel tank).
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A Boeing-dominated fleet
Alaska Airlines’ commitment to the MAX represents its desire to transition to an all-Boeing fleet. Last month, it arranged to swap 10 of its Airbus A320 aircraft for 13 MAXs from US lessor Air Lease Corp. It expects to take delivery of the first of these in the fourth quarter of 2021. Regarding its shrinking A320 fleet, Ben Minicucci (its President) stated in October that:
“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.”
Following the additional MAX orders earlier this month, Alaska Airlines immediately retired 20 of its A320 family aircraft. It plans to phase out the remainder of its Airbus fleet within three years. There are also De Havilland Dash-8 Q400 and Embraer 175 aircraft in the carrier’s fleet. However, these are operated by its regional partners Horizon Air and Skywest Airlines.
Confidence in the aircraft
This time last year, Alaska Airlines had planned for its first MAX flight to take place in April 2020. However, the type did not receive FAA recertification until November. Combined with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this has created a backlog of around 450 undelivered MAX aircraft, including Alaska Airlines’ first examples of the type.
Nonetheless, the carrier has placed significant confidence in the MAX, which has been underlined by its recent additional orders. Indeed, as early as July 2020, its CEO, Brad Tilden, claimed not to have any reservations about the type.
Alaska Airlines is now expecting to take delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX 9 in January 2021. Three examples have already been constructed and painted in its colors. Passenger service is set to commence in March, but not before a rigorous safety testing program that will put it through its paces for six weeks in locations as far afield as Hawaii.
Have you flown with Alaska Airlines before? Would the presence of the 737 MAX in its fleet influence your likelihood of traveling with the airline? Let us know your experiences and thoughts in the comments.