Alaska Airlines exclusively flies Boeing 737s, which is something the airline is proud of, given that it’s based in Seattle. That’s why it’s pretty noteworthy that the carrier has just added a new aircraft variant to its fleet.
In this post:
Alaska takes delivery of new Boeing 737 MAX variant
While Alaska Airlines also flies Boeing 737-700s, 737-800s, and 737-900s, the airline is relying on 737 MAXs for its fleet renewal. These are the latest versions of the 737, featuring improved economics and range compared to previous generation 737s. In the long run, Alaska intends to fly the 737 MAX 8, 737 MAX 9, and 737 MAX 10 (not factoring in whatever happens with the Hawaiian Airlines merger).
Alaska took delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX 9 back in January 2021, and over the past three years, the airline has taken delivery of 65 of these jets. Now Alaska has finally taken delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX 8, which has the registration code N801AK. The airline plans to take delivery of seven more of these in 2024.
The 737 MAX 8 is the lower capacity and longer range version of the 737 MAX 9. Alaska intends to equip the first five 737 MAX 8s with a total of 159 seats, including 12 first class seats and 147 economy seats. Then starting with the sixth plane, Alaska will introduce a new configuration with 161 seats, including 16 first class seats and 145 economy seats, and those initial planes will be retrofitted. I’ll talk more about all of this in a separate post.
For context on Alaska’s long term Boeing 737 MAX plans:
- The airline is targeting to have 20-40 Boeing 737 MAX 8s, featuring 159 seats; Alaska plans to use this as the longest range 737, best for high performance and medium sized markets
- The airline is targeting to have 80 Boeing 737 MAX 9s, featuring 178 seats; Alaska plans to use this as the aircraft for long haul, high demand routes
- The airline is targeting to have 120-140 Boeing 737 MAX 10s, featuring 190 seats; Alaska will use this as the largest, most efficient aircraft in its fleet
Boeing is still working toward certification for the 737 MAX 10, though that’s reportedly close to becoming a reality. Alaska plans to take delivery of its first 737 MAX 10 in 2025.
Alaska’s interesting Boeing 737 MAX variant choice
It’s interesting to see the approach different airlines take toward fleet planning. For example, both Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines exclusively fly the Boeing 737s, but they’re refreshing their fleets in totally different ways:
- Alaska is focusing almost entirely on the larger 737 MAX 9 and 737 MAX 10 aircraft for its fleet renewal; the airline ordered a very limited number of 737 MAX 8s, and didn’t order 737 MAX 7s
- Southwest is focusing exclusively on the smaller 737 MAX 7 and 737 MAX 8 aircraft for its fleet renewal; the airline hasn’t ordered any 737 MAX 9s or 737 MAX 10s
Why do the airlines take such different approaches? Alaska’s logic is that the larger variants of the 737 MAX only have marginally higher operating costs, so the incremental cost of offering those extra seats is minimal. Meanwhile Southwest’s logic is that the airline would struggle to fill the larger variants on many routes, and that would cause the airline to have to lower fares, and wouldn’t be good for profitability.
Obviously the airlines both have reasons for their logic. I understand why Southwest takes the approach it does, but I’m surprised that the airline doesn’t even see merit to operating larger variants in some markets.
Alaska Airlines has taken delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX 8. For the past few years, the airline has modernized its fleet with dozens of 737 MAX 9s, and now the airline is starting to fly the smaller and longer range variant of the aircraft. Then starting in 2025, Alaska plans to acquire 737 MAX 10s.
It’s interesting how few 737 MAX 8s Alaska has on order, as the airline instead focuses on larger variants of the jet. That’s exactly the opposite of Southwest’s strategy.
What do you make of Alaska’s 737 MAX 8 plans?