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In the past few days the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted its ban on Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft (other jurisdictions have yet to follow suit) and we’re already seeing airlines lining up to give support to the beleaguered aircraft. Alaska Airlines is the latest US carrier to provide a show of faith to the MAX as the airline confirms that it is swapping a number of its Airbus A320 aircraft for new Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft.
In an announcement made earlier today, Alaska Airlines confirmed that it will be selling 10 of the Airbus A320 that it inherited when it acquired Virgin America and leasing 13 new Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft to replace them. Air Lease Corporation will be buying the A320s from Alaska Airlines as well as leasing it the new MAX aircraft but as the first of the 737s are not scheduled for delivery until the fourth quarter of next year, it will also be leasing back the 10 A320s to Alaska Airlines on a short-term basis.
Alaska press statement focuses on the MAX aircrafts’ environmental credentials (reportedly, they’re 20 percent more fuel-efficient and generate 20 percent less carbon emissions per seat than the A320s they will replace) and the fact that the aircraft can fly up to 600 miles further than the outgoing A320s and, unsurprisingly, makes no mention of the MAX’s tainted past.
Per the airline, the new leased aircraft are in addition to the 32 MAX aircraft that Alaska already has on order with Boeing and the airline expects to have 5 such aircraft operating on its network from March 2021.
Before its takeover of Virgin America, Alaska Airlines only operated Boeing aircraft in its mainline fleet, and the news out today combined with the fact that the airline retired all 10 of its A319 aircraft and some of its older A320 during the summer, would appear to indicate that the airline is heading back to operating a 100% Boeing mainline fleet once again.
Alaska Airlines is clearly gambling that the savings that the MAX aircraft offer and the new routes that the aircraft may open up will far outweigh any business that the airline may lose by operating an aircraft whose name most people only know because of the two air disasters that led to its grounding…and I suspect that the gamble will pay off. (Note: It was the 737-8 MAX that was involved in both disasters and not the 737-9 but I doubt that many people will be making that distinction).
The fact is that most travelers have absolutely no idea what aircraft they’re flying in or how to find out what aircraft are operating the route that they’re booking so when the initial furor of the MAX returning to the skies had died down, the majority of travelers will almost certainly be going back to basing their decisions on price and not on the aircraft being offered. Yes, there will be some people who will avoid the MAX wherever possible, but they’ll be in a minority that’s too small for the airlines to care.
Alaska Airlines has taken what appears to be another step towards returning to operating a 100% Boeing mainline fleet as it agrees to sell 10 of its Airbus A320s and lease an additional 13 Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft.