Alaska Airlines Accelerates Shift To All-Boeing Fleet By End 2023

Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9
Credit: Alaska Airlines

Alaska Air Group plans to accelerate its transition to an all-Boeing 737 mainline fleet by year-end 2023, ahead of previous plans for 2024.

The airline also announced plans to remove the last De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400s from its regional fleet by the end of 2023, leaving it with an all-Embraer E175 regional fleet.

During the pandemic, Seattle-based Alaska began the process of removing the 73 leased Airbus narrowbodies it inherited from its merger with Virgin America in 2016. It started by permanently parking a 10-aircraft subfleet of A319s in 2020 and has removed 18 of 53 A320s to date, according to Aviation Week Network’s Fleet Discovery. The company also operates 10 A321neos, none of which have retired yet.

Presenting at Alaska’s 2022 Investor Day, Nat Pieper, Alaska’s SVP of fleet, finances and alliances, said the company has accelerated the planned removal of its last A320s to “not later than early 2023 and maybe a little bit sooner if we can push it.” 

Pieper also said that management has determined to remove its 10 A321neos by the end of 2023. 

Coming out of the pandemic, management was thinking of removing the last Airbus narrowbodies by 2024, Pieper explained. “But we learned during the pandemic that the best financial and operational decision we can make is to get the single fleet as quickly as we can.”

The outgoing Airbus jets will be replaced by incoming 737 MAX-family aircraft, of which Alaska currently has firm orders for 76—a mix of -8s, -9s and -10s—with 52 options for 2024 through 2026. The airline has already taken delivery of 17 737-9s, having received its latest two on March 22.

The shift from A320ceo to 737 MAX aircraft marks a substantial upgauging across Alaska’s mainline narrowbody fleet. The airline’s outgoing A320ceos have 150 seats, whereas the 737-9s replacing them will have 178 seats, Pieper said. The carrier also has a firm order placed for 60 189-seat 737-10s. 

Assuming Alaska exercises all its purchase options, it would eventually have a mainline fleet of 145 aircraft. Of that amount, Pieper envisions just 15 737-8s, with the remaining 130 jets consisting of a mix of larger 737-9s and 737-10s. Each 737 variant will “play a unique role for us,” Pieper explained.

“The -10 will be our biggest airplane with the lowest seat costs,” Pieper said. “The -9 still has large seat capability with a little bit better performance. And I like to think of the -8—which we’ll take our first next year—as our utility infielder. It’s got the best performance capabilities for hot and high airports and short runways, and it’s also great for medium-sized markets.”

On the regional side, Pieper said that Alaska will remove the last Dash 8-400s from its regional fleet—all of which are operated by wholly owned subsidiary Horizon Air—by the end of 2023. Aviation Week data shows the company currently has 34 Dash 8-400s, all of which are leased. 

The changes will leave Alaska’s two regional affiliates—Horizon and SkyWest Airlines—with a streamlined fleet of dual-class Embraer E175s. The two regional carriers currently operate a combined 62 E175s on behalf of Alaska, with 20 more on order. 

Alaska also updated its guidance for the 2022 first quarter (Q1), becoming the latest U.S. carrier to signal expectations for slightly higher revenues on strong bookings for spring and summer travel. 

The company now expects total revenues in Q1 to be down 11-12% from 2019 levels, versus previous expectations of down 14-17%. Capacity is anticipated to be down 11-12%, versus previous guidance of down 10-13%.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Washington, Ben covers Congress, regulatory agencies, the Departments of Justice and Transportation and lobby groups.