Alaska Airlines does not plan on hitting its 2019 fleet count before 2024, at the soonest. Amid slower deliveries of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft compared to Airbus aircraft retirements, the airline is planning on being slightly smaller for the next few years, even as it plans to be aggressive with capacity this year.
Alaska’s fleet plan through 2023
Alaska Airlines has detailed its fleet plan through 2023:
|December 31st, 2019||December 31st, 2020||December 31st, 2021||December 31st, 2022||December 31st, 2023|
|Boeing 737 Freighters||3||3||3||3||3|
|Boeing 737 MAX 9||–||–||13||43||56|
|Total Mainline Fleet||237||197||210||232||232|
As for its regional fleet, Alaska Airlines plans to maintain a pretty stagnant fleet. The airline ended 2020 with 32 Horizon-operated Q400s and will slowly reduce this down to 25 aircraft by 2023.
Embraer E175s operated by horizon stood at 30 at the end of 2020 and will stay at 30 until three new E175s join the fleet in 2023, bringing the overall E175 Horizon-operated fleet to 33 planes. The E175s operated by other airlines, such as SkyWest, will stay at 32 jets through the end of 2023.
This will keep the airline’s regional fleet at 94 planes in 2021, 93 in 2022, and 90 in 2023.
Alaska will not get to 2019 fleet-level counts until 2024 at the soonest
Combined with the mainline fleet, Alaska ended 2019 with 332 planes, 291 in 2020, 304 in 2021, 325 in 2022, and 322 in 2023. Alaska Airlines has not released its 2024 and beyond fleet guidance, but the airline will be at least 10 planes smaller heading into 2024 than it ended 2019 with.
The reduction will be even with five lost planes from the mainline fleet and five losses from the regional fleet from 2019 through 2023.
The primarily reduced fleets include the Airbus A319 and A320 fleet. The A319s have already exited Alaska’s fleet, and the A320s will be gone by the end of 2023. On the regional side, Alaska will remove seven Horizon-operated Q400 planes.
Fleet count is not the same as capacity
Alaska’s Airbus A320s seat only 150 passengers. The Boeing 737 MAX jets that are primarily replacing the Airbus A320s seat 178 passengers. With fewer jets, Alaska Airlines will have higher gauge aircraft that will lead the airline to increase capacity. A similar story plays out at American Airlines, though American’s gauge increase is also heavily driven by retrofits.
There will be a loss in the airline’s regional capacity, as the Embraer E175s and Q400s have the same seating configuration. One thing that could alter that calculus is if Alaska uses its Embraer E175s heavier to increase capacity.
Alaska Airlines can benefit vastly from an increase in gauge. Once it officially joins the oneworld alliance and becomes closer partners with a host of fellow airlines, the carrier can offer the MAX on higher-demand routes to benefit from the aircraft’s fuel efficiency and excellent operating economics.
The importance of the Boeing 737 MAX
The Boeing 737 MAX is going to be one of Alaska’s most important jets in the future. Along with the airline’s firm orders for a total of 68 Boeing 737 MAX jets, the airline has the option to take 52 more of the aircraft type.
For Alaska Airlines, these Boeing 737 MAX options could be incredibly transformative for the carrier since it traditionally takes all of its options. The MAX is also key to increasing Alaska’s gauge. However, do not expect the airline to put lie-flat seats on the MAX anytime soon.
What do you think about Alaska’s fleet plan for the next two years? Let us know in the comments!