Alaska Plans On Having An All Boeing Fleet Long Term

Filed Under: Alaska, Virgin America

With Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America having closed late last year, the airlines have a lot of work to do when it comes to streamlining the experiences for passengers. While the airlines were both strong on the West Coast, that’s largely where their similarities end. Perhaps one of their biggest differences is that Alaska has an all Boeing fleet, while Virgin America has an all Airbus fleet.

Ultimately that’s not completely incompatible — for example, American, Delta, and United, all operate both A320s and 737s — though Alaska has long been proud of their status as an all Boeing airline, given that they’re based in Seattle.

While it has been hinted at so far, up until now we haven’t heard anything official about Alaska’s future fleet plans. Well, it looks like we now have some more insight from Alaska’s CEO.

Brad Tilden stated yesterday that Alaska planned to maintain an all Boeing fleet long term, and was working on a “transition” for the Airbus fleet. Per the Puget Sound Business Journal:

“My dad was a 32-year Boeing guy,” Tilden told a Seattle business audience at a breakfast organized by the Puget Sound Business Journal. “This company could not be more in love with Boeing, or loyal to Boeing.”

“We actually just need to get this worked out with Boeing because we have 63 – growing to 73 – Airbus airplanes and they’ll likely be in the fleet for some number of years,” Tilden continued. “If I were to guess, they won’t be in the fleet permanently.”

“It will take some time to get a transition done,” Tilden added.

At the moment Alaska has a total of 49 737s on order (including 12 737-900ERs and 37 737 MAXs), while Virgin America has 38 A320-family aircraft on order (including 30 A320neos and eight A321neos).

As it stands, Virgin America has 65 planes in their fleet, so there’s no way we’re going to see all of those planes retired anytime soon, as it would represent a huge reduction in capacity for the airline. Instead I suspect that Alaska will go all Boeing as the Virgin America planes would otherwise naturally be retired, and that all future orders will be with Boeing.

So I doubt this will happen in the next five years, but rather longer term than that.

The A320 and 737 family are competing aircraft, though there are minor advantages to each. From a comfort standpoint I certainly prefer Airbus, as the cabin is slightly wider, and therefore the seats are wider. However, from a maintenance perspective, 737s seem to require less maintenance long term than A320s, especially as they get older.

I suspect Alaska maintaining an all Boeing fleet long term is a given, I’m just curious over what timeframe the transition happens.

What do you make of Alaska’s long term plan to maintain an all Boeing fleet?

  1. Come on Lucky, Alaska’s all-Boeing fleet talk is just PR spin for you guys who post quickly and think later.

    Horizon Air is 100pct owned by Alaska and flies a bunch of Q400s and ERJs. Bombardier and Embraer. From Canada and Brazil. And they are emblazoned with the Alaska logo, right there next to Horizon.

    They can technically keep their spin correct for the pro-Seattle folks because those props and ERJ flights are operated by a third party. But you book Alaska tickets, you fly on a plane that says Alaska on the side, and it very likely ISNT Boeing.

    It’s all just marketing spin that you unfortunately are helping to push with posts like this. Alaska benefits from the smaller economics of both the props and ERJ in a way that Boeing simply can’t provide.

  2. My guess is that, when Boeing starts to see some gaps in its 737 lines, a deal will be done for Boeing to take over the remaining 320s in exchange for new 737s. At the same time, more cost-conscious airlines will see a number of 320s appearing on the secondhand market.

  3. I’m not a Boeing loyalist by any means. The A330 is a terrific plane, I loved my A350 flight, and I am happy to fly anything. But I just don’t see the argument that the A320 is more comfortable than the 737-800. I’ll take a 737 any day over an A320/A319

  4. It is ironic that Delta is trying to stoke American nationalism when complaining about the Middle Eastern airlines, but none of Delta’s recent major orders have been for made-in-America aircraft.

  5. @Bob Trial – Boeing doesn’t build aircraft in the Q400/E175 class, so what else would they do? Or are you suggesting Boeing should build smaller jets and turboprops?

    I stopped thinking of Boeing as a Seattle company when they moved the corporate headquarters to Chicago.

    As for JetBlue buying the Virgin America birds, I believe JetBlue uses the V2500 engines and Virgin America uses the CFM56, so that might be a no-go. But JetBlue might be interested in taking the Neo production slots, especially the A321s (given the steady expansion of the Mint product.)

  6. @Bob, why the hate-mail? I don’t understand why you think it is in Lucky’s interest to “spin” this. Who is he spinning it for..Boeing? Alaska Airlines? So odd….

    This blog is not part of PR firm; thus, they would not be doing a “PR spin.”

  7. They should just sell the all of the airbus airplanes back to Richard Branson for him to get back into the business! Hahaha

  8. Seems a little odd to me to basically tell Boeing “we will buy planes from you no matter what…” I would think that would compromise Alaska’s negotiating position for future planes.

  9. @Andrew unless they’re trying to get a sweetened pot for a buyback of the A320s, similar to discussed above? Eg we’ll be a vocally all-Boeing fleet, if you’ll just help us out..

    Doesn’t make much sense for VX to take on the neo deliveries if they have no intention of keeping them. Would make a lot more sense to take 737 deliveries, even if they’re NG instead of MAX. At least you’d have fleet commonality, which should probably be a competitive cost reduction to the neo advantages?

  10. Isn’t it irresponsible for the head of a listed company to rule out one of two possible suppliers when he’s looking for a deal that works best for shareholders? Seems very odd to me to commit to buying only from one of the two manufacturers thus giving Boeing a ridiculous advantage – even Ryanair don’t do that. If I owned shares in Alaska I’d be concerned by this – especially given the moves by Airbus to manufacture planes in the USA.

    Unless, of course, it’s just bigotry in another form! (We Europeans are awful, after all. Just be glad it’s hard to build a wall in the middle of the Atlantic).

  11. FNT Delta Diamond says:

    It is ironic that Delta is trying to stoke American nationalism when complaining about the Middle Eastern airlines, but none of Delta’s recent major orders have been for made-in-America aircraft.

    Wrong, Delta’s A321’s are being manufactured in Alabama.
    In reality parts for both Boing and Airbus planes come from all around the world.

  12. @Sandeep Why do Boeing need a vocally Boeing-only airline? Their customers are major airlines, not ignorant patriots – the buying managers at airlines aren’t going to remotely care about Alaska’s fleet when deciding whether to buy Airbus or Boeing.

  13. I don’t think voicing commitment to a supplier is necessarily irresponsible. IT depends on the relationship. My most loyal customers, the one’s I’ve worked with for 15+ years, they get the best rates on our services, they get the most capable project staff and when they need something in a hurry their projects go to the front of the line. I would think that Alaska looks at the whole relationship – for example I bet it’s been pretty valuable over the years to be able to drive from the primary Alaska hub at Seatac and reach the primary manufacturing plant for all the planes in about 15 minutes. Alaska is never going to have better availability for maintenance parts and service than they do with Boeing.

  14. There are many airlines who ordered A320neo / A321neos and waiting patiently for delivery. I am sure some of them would want to jump queue and get their hands on undelivered VX orders early. AS can broker a deal for them to get rid of what’s left in the order book.

    Existing fleet replacement is a lot trickier. Even if AS wants to replace the entire VX fleet with Boeing aircrafts today, it will take some time to get them from the open market or have Boeing build them. I have not heard of any cancelled 737 orders lately. The AS announcement can definitely be a signal the airline to Boeing to find it a solution (ideally to replace the VX fleet with Boeing aircrafts asap and also transfer the remaining VX orders with minimal penalty).

  15. Callum , I resent your ignorant patriot remark . It is not ignorant to take the oath to serve and protect our country . It is not ignorant to never miss a chance to vote . I submit it is not even ignorant to make a meaningful contribution by honestly paying your taxes .

  16. Really Bob Trial ! why do you feel necessary to post such nonsense. Your statement is so ludicrous I don’t even know how to respond without being rude. Adam W said it politely so I will refrain from further comment.

  17. My point is Alaska is simply not an all Boeing airline. Hard not to see it any other way when Horizon has all these ERJs being delivered and flies the Q400!

    The “all Boeing” pitch is Alaska spin for the homers in Seattle. But it’s a total lie to the customer, when they fly around Embraers and Bombardier-made planes too.

    I just wish it had been pointed out in the post as such, that Alaska mgmt needs to be taken with a grain of salt when they repeat this untrue mantra over and over. It’s just untrue. Sure technically they can say Alaska mainline , but I see it as deceptive. Especially since all the Horizon birds are emblazoned with the Alaska logo now and it’s 100pct owned by Alaska.

  18. @Bob Trial – While the general public may not be knowledgeable about the exact difference between “mainline” and smaller planes, they get the general idea and aren’t going to be confused, or (more likely) simply don’t give a rat’s. And people in Seattle do know more about this sort of thing and are more likely to know that Boeing simply doesn’t BUILD a plane smaller than the 737.

    @Seat 1C – that’s a fair point, but investors are likely to understand the hidden “we’re loyal to Boeing…as long as they don’t try to screw us over.” And Boeing understands that too.

  19. I could see American potentially picking up some of the A319 fleet, as they operate CFM56 powered A319s.

  20. Just my 2¢ . . . worth far less, I’m sure; keep the change.

    1) It makes sense to me, from *ALASKA’S* point-of-view that Alaska would want to continue being a “100% Boeing” fleet, given they are a) based in Seattle and thus the hometown airline, and b) Boeing is still thought of by many in the PNW as a “local” company.
    @Bob Trial —> Sorry. Alaska is an all-Boeing airline. Their wholly owned SUBSIDIARY, Horizon, operates regional jets and turbo-props and it matter NOT what the paint scheme is, it’s ownership that counts. Those planes are owned (or leased) by Horizon, not Alaska. @CraigTPA is correct in this, IMHO.

    2) From my *own* p.o.v., I generally prefer the A320 over the 737. I find them to be quieter, more comfortable¹, with larger overhead bins, and better doors. That said, it’s not as if the 737 is a horrible plane — far from it! I’d much rather be on a 737 than, say, an MD-80/717. But, between an AS 737 and a VX 320? Airbus every time!
    @Seat 1C —> You make a good point, and I’ve long thought that *most* carriers “hedge their bets” by playing one off the other (Airbus & Boeing). Unless and until AS needs something larger than a 737, however, I’m sure there are cost savings to be had with a single — make that *primary* — supplier. I’m sure Southwest enjoys considerable savings as an all-Boeing 737 fleet, and Alaska, I’m sure, does too. This does raise question, though: just how far can Boeing go in terms of “screwing over” AS before AS picks up the phone and calls Toulouse . . .

    3) Regardless of what carriers acquire which parts of VX’s fleet, as AS phases them out, there will certainly be a market for the planes. According to Planespotters (see, VX has a fleet of 65 planes, which break out as follows:
    — A319’s: 10 (all leased), with an average age of 9.8 years.
    — A320’s: 53 (13 owned; 40 leased), avg. age = 6.9 years.
    — A321 neo’s: 2 (both leased), avg. age = 0.2 years.

    4) @Neil —> You wrote, “Delta’s A321’s are being manufactured in Alabama.” WRONG! The Airbus site in Mobile, Alabama is an ASSEMBLY plant, *not* a manufacturing plant. Indeed, from the Airbus site (, “Since September 2015, Airbus has opened an A320 Family jetliner final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama – officially called the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility. The new assembly line, which is the company’s first US-based production facility, will facilitate assembly of A319, A320 and A321 aircraft. Assembly is planned to begin in 2015, with first delivery of a Mobile-assembled aircraft in 2016.” All main fuselage parts are shipped by sea across the Atlantic from Hamburg, Germany.

    ¹ This will obviously vary from carrier to carrier with the internal furnishings each one chooses.

  21. I hope that Alaska will stay with the Airbus as they are much more comfortable and the new Boeings are having terrible crashes (Indonesia and Ethiopia).

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