Alaska Airlines prides itself on its fleet of exclusively Boeing 737s, a choice rooted in its Seattle base. Recently, however, a notable shift occurred as the airline diversified its aircraft types.
While Alaska Airlines operates various models of the Boeing 737, it has now turned its focus toward the 737 MAX series for fleet modernization. These upgraded versions promise better efficiency and extended range compared to their predecessors. The airline plans to incorporate the 737 MAX 8, 737 MAX 9, and 737 MAX 10 into its operations in the future, excluding potential changes due to the Hawaiian Airlines merger.
In a departure from their previous deliveries, Alaska received its inaugural Boeing 737 MAX 9 in January 2021 and has since added 65 of these planes to its fleet. The recent addition of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, identified by the registration code N801AK, marks a new milestone. Plans include acquiring seven more of these jets in 2024.
Distinguishing between the MAX 8 and MAX 9, the MAX 8 offers extended range but accommodates fewer passengers compared to the MAX 9. Initially, Alaska will configure five MAX 8s with 159 seats, gradually transitioning to a setup of 161 seats from the sixth aircraft onwards, including a revised first-class and economy seat allocation.
Looking ahead, Alaska Airlines has detailed plans for its 737 MAX fleet:
20-40 Boeing 737 MAX 8s with 159 seats for high-performance and medium-sized markets
80 Boeing 737 MAX 9s with 178 seats for long-haul and high-demand routes
120-140 Boeing 737 MAX 10s with 190 seats as the most efficient in their fleet
Certification for the 737 MAX 10 is pending, with delivery expected in 2025.
Alaska’s strategic choice in favoring the larger MAX variants contrasts sharply with Southwest Airlines, which primarily focuses on the smaller MAX 7 and MAX 8 models and opted out of ordering MAX 9s or MAX 10s. The rationale behind this divergence lies in operating costs and market demands. Alaska believes the slight increase in operating costs for larger variants is justified, while Southwest fears lower demand for larger planes leading to reduced profitability.
The different strategies employed by these airlines raise intriguing questions. While Southwest’s approach seems understandable, Alaska’s decision to overlook larger variants entirely surprises many observers.
In summary, Alaska Airlines’ acquisition of the 737 MAX 8 signals a shift towards diversification within their Boeing 737 MAX fleet. This departure from Southwest’s strategy emphasizes Alaska’s preference for larger MAX variants, highlighting the differing paths taken by these carriers in their fleet management.
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