Alaska Airlines kicked the tires on its first Boeing 737 Max on Sunday, taking delivery of the jet that will define its future.
The Seattle-based carrier took the 737-9, registration N913AK, on an aerial tour around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula on the delivery flight from Boeing Field to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Ben Minicucci, Alaska president and soon-to-be CEO, joined the crew on the flight.
The aircraft, outfitted with 178 seats, is due to enter service between Seattle and both Los Angeles and San Diego on March 1. Alaska will be the third U.S. airline to resume Max flights after American Airlines in December and United Airlines on February 11. Southwest Airlines plans to re-introduce the Max later in March.
Alaska has firm orders for 68 737-9s plus options for another 52 aircraft. In December, the airline selected the Max to replace the 61 Airbus A319s and A320s that it acquired as part of its Virgin America merger in 2016.
“We’ve eagerly waited for this day,” said Minicucci said in a statement Monday. “This plane is a significant part of our future. We believe in it [and] we believe in Boeing.”
Alaska is scheduled to take delivery of 13 737-9s this year — the second is due in March — 30 in 2022, 13 in 2023, and 12 in 2024. The airline can slow these arrivals depending on the pace of the travel recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. It can also swap some aircraft for either the smaller 737-8 or the larger 737-10.
With the arrival of the 737-9, Alaska is on track to retire its remaining 41 A320s in 2023. The carrier has already removed all 10 of its A319s, plus 10 A320s, in response to the Covid-19 crisis. It will keep 10 Airbus A321neos that arrived after the Virgin America combo.
When asked in a recent interview why the airline selected the Max for its future fleet, Alaska Senior Vice President of Fleet, Finance & Alliances Nathaniel Pieper said it came down to “just math” for the airline.
“It really was very straightforward that the 737-9 was just a better fit for us,” when everything from price tag to seating capacity, weight and range were measured against more A321neos, he said. The Max will complement the 166 737s already flying for Alaska.