Alaska Airlines just received the first of their 68 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to begin their transition back to an all Boeing fleet according to a press release that was just issued.
The Arrival Of The First MAX
Alaska Airlines has accepted delivery of its first Boeing 737-9 MAX airplane, marking a new phase of modernizing the airline’s fleet in the coming years. Alaska pilots flew the aircraft on a short flight yesterday from the Boeing Delivery Center at Boeing Field in Seattle to the company’s hangar at Sea-Tac International Airport with a small group of Alaska’s top leadership on board.
“We’ve eagerly waited for this day. It was a proud moment to board our newest 737 aircraft and fly it home,” said Alaska Airlines President Ben Minicucci. “This plane is a significant part of our future. We believe in it, we believe in Boeing and we believe in our employees who will spend the next five weeks in training to ensure we’re ready to safely fly our guests.”
Preparing The MAX For Revenue Flights
Teams from across various divisions at Alaska will now follow a strict readiness timeline that guides the actions that must be taken before the start of passenger flights. The process – involving rigorous rounds of test flying, verifying and specific preparations – will take five weeks:
- Maintenance technicians will undergo training to become even more acquainted with the new aircraft. They will receive at least 40 hours of “differences training,” which distinguishes the variations between the new MAX and the airline’s existing 737 NG fleet. Certain technicians will receive up to 40 additional hours of specialized training focused on the plane’s engines and avionics systems.
- Alaska’s pilots will put the 737-9 through its paces, flying it more than 50 flight hours and roughly 19,000 miles around the country, including to Alaska and Hawaii. These “proving flights” are conducted to confirm our safety assessments and those of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and to ensure a full understanding of the plane’s capabilities in different climates and terrain.
- Our pilots will receive eight hours of MAX-specific, computer-based training prior to flying the aircraft over the course of two days, which includes at least two hours of training in Alaska’s own certified, state-of-the-art MAX flight simulator. That’s where they fly several maneuvers specific to the aircraft and better understand the improvements that have been made to the plane.
“Our pilots are the best trained in the industry. With the 737-9, we’re going above and beyond with our training program, even more than what the FAA is requesting,” said John Ladner, an Alaska 737 captain and vice president of flight operations. “We have high confidence in this aircraft. It’s a tremendous addition to our fleet, and we’re ready to start flying it in March.”
First MAX Flights To Begin In March, 2021
Alaska’s first 737-9 is scheduled to enter passenger service on March 1 with daily roundtrip flights between Seattle and San Diego, and Seattle and Los Angeles. The airline’s second 737-9 is expected to enter service later in March.
The Future Of Alaska Airlines’ Fleet Plan
Prior to the purchase of Virgin America, the Alaska fleet plan was similar to that of Southwest using all Boeing 737 aircraft. After the merger with Virgin America, Alaska inherited their fleet of Airbus A319, A320 and A321 aircraft along with an order for A321NEO jets. Last November, Alaska Airlines entered into an agreement with Air Lease Corporation to replace the Airbus fleet powered by the CFM-56 engines with an additional 737-9 MAX aircraft. This was a brilliant strategic move by Alaska CEO Brad Tilden and you can read that story here. This agreement gave Alaska an easy exit strategy to remove the older Airbus aircraft since the used aircraft market is dead. Alaska Airlines will keep the new A321NEO aircraft with the new LEAP-1 engines for long-haul flights.
Alaska Airlines announced a restructured order agreement with Boeing in December 2020 to receive a total of 68 737-9 MAX aircraft in the next four years, with options for an additional 52 planes. The airline is scheduled to receive 13 planes this year, 30 in 2022, 13 in 2023 and 12 in 2024.
These 68 aircraft will largely replace Alaska’s Airbus fleet and move the airline substantially toward a single, mainline fleet that’s more efficient, profitable and environmentally friendly. The 737-9 will enhance the passenger experience and support the company’s growth
Flying a single aircraft type greatly reduces operating expenses at an airline. Airlines need to only train and certify pilots and flight attendants on a single aircraft type. This also translates to maintenance costs for the fleet with training and certification of A&P mechanics and a common parts inventory.
Improving The Environment
The MAX aircraft are 20 percent more fuel-efficient and generate 20 percent less carbon emissions per seat than the A320s they will replace. The aircraft is also able to fly 600 miles farther than Alaska’s current A320, which opens the possibility of additional nonstop routes and new destinations.
Deliveries of Alaska’s 737-9 aircraft by Boeing will be flown with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which helps the aviation industry reduce CO2 emissions on a life-cycle basis. The SAF will be used on all MAX aircraft deliveries and will be supplied by Epic Fuels.
Alaska Airlines is on track to return back to all Boeing 737 operations. The new Airbus A321NEO aircraft will remain with the carrier for the near future. The fleet plan for the airline has been finalized and they will be able to reduce operating costs by going back to a single aircraft type.
For passengers, this will allow Alaska Airlines to replace older aircraft and expand their route structure along with reducing their carbon footprint.