Alaska Airlines swaps Airbus A320s for 13 new Boeing 737 MAX jets

Nov 23, 2020

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Alaska Airlines is marching steadily towards returning to a mostly Boeing 737 fleet with a new deal to replace Airbus A320s with 737 MAX jets.

The Seattle-based carrier will lease 13 737 MAX 9s from lessor Air Lease Corporation (ALC) in exchange for 10 A320s, Alaska said Monday. The deal brings its firm commitments for the MAX to 45 aircraft, including orders for 32 planes.

Alaska began weighing either more A321neos or 737 MAXes as a replacement for its 61 Airbus A319 and A320 jets in January. However, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic changed the equation with the carrier accelerating Airbus retirements and quietly moving towards more 737s — the mainstay of its 217-jet mainline fleet.

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Alaska says it will have 39 A320s left after the ALC deal. However, if the 10 it said it’s exchanging on Monday are in addition to those it has already retired — or has slated for retirement — then a back-of-the-notebook analysis shows the airline with just 22 A320s in its fleet by the end of 2022, according to the fleet plan at the end of September.

The airline acquired the A320 fleet as part of its deal for Virgin America that closed in December 2016. Alaska has no plans to remove the 10 A321neos that it gained as part of the merger.

The A320s-for-737 MAXes deal enhances “our fleet and advance our environmental, operational and financial performance,” said Alaska CEO Brad Tilden in a statement.

Related: Why Alaska Airlines can’t retire its Airbus A320s all at once

Alaska plans to take delivery of its first 737 MAX in January following the re-certification of the beleaguered jet earlier in November. The MAX was grounded for more than 20 months after two fatal crashes took the lives of 346 people.

The airline plans to begin MAX flights with passengers in March, according to its website.

The MAXes from ALC will begin arriving at the end of 2021 and continue through 2022. Alaska will sell the A320s to the lessor when the “transaction closes” and lease them back for a short period.

Reports had indicated that Alaska was in discussions with Boeing over an additional MAX order once the FAA lifted its grounding notice. These may still be pending, however; with cash for new jets limited, leasing presents a lower upfront cost to acquiring new jets.

Related: US authorities lift Boeing 737 MAX grounding, allow jets to resume flights

Featured image by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.

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