On the nose of nearly every Boeing 737 in Alaska Airlines’ fleet reads a message: Proudly All Boeing. Given the fact that at one point in recent years, parent Alaska Air Group was flying airplanes from four different manufacturers at its mainline and regional carrier, Horizon Air, the message was as much an industry punchline as it was a statement of the carrier’s aspiration.
But starting this weekend, Alaska’s message will be factually, not just spiritually, accurate. The carrier on September 30 will fly its final commercial flight with an Airbus aircraft — an A321neo — closing a chapter on the absorption of Virgin America while standardizing its mainline fleet to all 737s for the first time since December 2016. On Monday, Alaska will have 220 mainline 737s in its fleet, along with holding orders and options for 197 Max 8s, 9s and 10s to be delivered in the years to come.
Removing the complexity of multiple aircraft types from its mainline fleet was a mid-pandemic decision. “If you could center it on one fleet type, it just makes your operations so much simpler. Just that goes straight to the bottom line,” said Nat Pieper, Alaska senior vice president in a recent interview with The Air Current.
“Part of it is also where Alaska is strategically. We’re never going to be the biggest, we’re never going to be able to get the best leverage we can by banging Airbus and Boeing’s heads together.”
Earlier this month, Alaska invited TAC on the delivery flight for the 56th 737 Max 9 to join the carrier’s fleet since January 2021 — just weeks after the 737 Max was cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly passengers again after the 20-month grounding. The short hop from Boeing Field in south Seattle to Oakland International Airport where Alaska has a small maintenance base gave an insight into the airline’s future as the industry in the U.S. enters the new realities of a post-recovery environment and pushes beyond 2019 levels of capacity.
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