- Alaska Airlines plans to simplify its fleet to just two aircraft types — the Boeing 737 and the Embraer 175.
- The carrier also operates Airbus A320 family jets and the Q400 turboprop but plans to retire all of them by the end of 2023.
- Travel analyst Henry Harteveldt told Insider that Alaska’s decision to choose Boeing over Airbus was a “fairly obvious one.”
Alaska Airlines announced on Thursday that it is simplifying its fleet to just two aircraft types by the end of 2023, allowing the airline to cut operational costs and strengthen its loyalty to Boeing.
Alaska plans to retire all of its Airbus A320 family and Bombardier Q400 planes over the next 21 months, leaving the Embraer 175 as the airline’s regional jet, and the Boeing 737 as its mainline workhorse.
Committing to just two aircraft types will allow “operational simplicity, flexibility and scalability, better fuel efficiency, and reduced maintenance costs,” according to the carrier.
“We’re well-positioned to continue that trend, leveraging loyalty, alliances, network growth, and our brand to unlock significant value and deliver $400 million of incremental revenue as part of our 2025 strategic plan,” Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci said in a press release. “Accelerating our transition to single fleets while upgauging for growth is also a key part of that strategy.”
Alaska acquired 60 A320 family aircraft during its merger with Virgin America in 2016 but has since retired all of its A319s during the pandemic, ch-aviation reported. It also obtained an order for 30 A321neo planes in the merger but canceled the order in late 2021.
While Alaska canceled the Airbus order and plans to retire nearly 80 jets, its fleet is expected to grow to about 400 planes come mid-decade, according to the airline. Currently, Alaska has 145 Boeing 737 MAX planes on order.
Meanwhile, the carrier placed an order for 17 Embraer 175 jets in May 2021 to be operated by subsidiary Horizon Air and partner SkyWest Airlines, Reuters reported.
Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that Alaska’s move was expected because of the cost advantages.
“There is a benefit to simplifying a fleet in many ways, from pilot and flight attendant training to maintenance costs,” Harteveldt explained. “There are thousands of parts you have to stock for routine day-to-day maintenance repair, as well as more comprehensive maintenance checks, but Alaska simplifying to the 737 will make it a much more cost-efficient airline.”
He also said that switching out an aircraft when one breaks down is easier with a simplified fleet.
Harteveldt told Insider that the retirement of the Q400 did surprise him, saying it’s an “excellent turboprop plane.” However, he believes it is likely that Alaska did not need enough of the small aircraft to justify the high pilot and maintenance costs needed to keep it in the fleet.
Moreover, he explained that there are routes where the Embraer 175 may not be profitable, but the cost savings to fly a single regional aircraft versus two is worth the loss.
According to Harteveldt, Alaska’s commitment to Boeing comes down to its history of operating the 737 and the number of the type in its fleet compared to Airbus, particularly since the carrier has adorned “Proudly All Boeing” on the nose of its 150-plus 737 planes.
“When you already have a sizeable majority of aircraft made by one company and you’re looking to simplify, the decision is a fairly obvious one,” he explained.