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Alaska Airlines To Base Embraer Jets In Anchorage As It Outlines Fleet Plans

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Alaska Airlines will start flying Embraer 175 regional jets in the state of Alaska beginning this October. Operated by partner Horizon Air, the aircraft will give the airline the ability to increase services across the state. This move comes as Alaska Airlines is evaluating its future fleet needs amid the current crisis.

The E175s are coming to Alaska

In a release viewed by Simple Flying, Marilyn Romano, regional vice president, stated the following on bringing the E175s to Alaska:

“Alaskans who have flown the E175 jet in the Lower 48 have frequently asked when they might see the plane in the state, and we’re thrilled the time has come. This jet gives us the flexibility to increase daily frequency between Anchorage and Fairbanks up to seven times a day, and to provide year-round service to King Salmon and Dillingham. In time, the new mix of aircraft will unlock other markets in the state for future service.”

The E175 will fly alongside the airline’s staple Boeing 737s. Onboard, these aircraft have 12 first class seats, 12 premium class (extra-legroom economy) seats, and 52 economy class seats. In addition, the aircraft are equipped with wi-fi so passengers can access complimentary movies and television on their own devices. However, power outlets are only available in first, so make sure you charge your services ahead of time.

Expanding in Alaska

Recently, Alaska Airlines added Boeing 737 service to Cold Bay. At the same time, the carrier started service to King Salmon and Dillingham a month early. The latter two routes are served by Boeing 737s, currently. Also, Alaska Air Cargo flies 737-700 freighters across the state.

Much of Alaska’s current flying around the state utilizes Boeing 737 aircraft. The A320s, acquired from the merger with Virgin America, primarily serve West Coast and continental US destinations. The problem with the 737s, however, is that they are a bit too large for a lot of destinations.

Future fleet plans

Also, on June 22nd, the airline released an updated forecast. The airline expects its passenger count for June to be between 650 and 850 thousand, down 80-85% from last year. The load factor is expected to be around 50-55%– up from 40% in May and dismal 15% April. Furthermore, the carrier expects revenue to be down about 80% from last year.

In terms of fleet, over March and April, Alaska parked 156 mainline aircraft. 12 Airbus planes were permanently retired from the fleet– this included the entire A319 fleet. 13 Horizon aircraft and eight SkyWest operated aircraft were also parked. Since then, 21 mainline jets have returned to service. 11 of the 13 Horizon aircraft returned, and all eight SkyWest planes are back in service as of June 19th.

To return planes to service, Alaska Airlines states that it expects limited maintenance preparation work and should be able to reintroduce approximately five per week, when necessary.

What is next for the airline’s fleet?

In total, Alaska Airlines has 322 aircraft in its fleet, 225 are mainline:

  • 3 Boeing 737 freighters
  • 11 Boeing 737-700s
  • 61 Boeing 737-800s
  • 12 Boeing 737-900s
  • 79 Boeing 737-900ERs
  • 49 Airbus A320s
  • 10 Airbus A321neos

Another 94 are regional aircraft:

  • 32 Q400s, flown by Horizon
  • 30 E175s flown by Horizon
  • 32 E175s flown by third parties

Looking ahead, the airline does not plan to alter its fleet much this year. Depending on the 737 MAX return to service, the airline expects to take three MAX 9s this year, bringing the overall mainline fleet count to 228.

Next year, the airline will expand its MAX 9 fleet. It currently expects to take 15 of the type while drawing down one Boeing 737-800 and seven Airbus A320s. If this pans out as the carrier expects presently, there will be 235 planes in Alaska Airlines’ fleet.

The airline is actively trying to source a replacement for its A320s. Currently, the carrier has a purchase commitment for 30 A320neos that it inherited from Virgin America. Although, the airline notes that this is a cancelable agreement. Long-term, operating both the 737 and A320 families can be quite costly for the airline. It will need to spend money to maintain operational harmony. This is why airlines, mostly, strive for fleet efficiency. Although, replacing the A320s would mean flushing the cash used to retrofit them down the drain.

For now, Alaska Airlines believes that it is too early to tell how its fleet plans will look in the future. In the investor update, it stated:

“Alaska is continuing to evaluate its overall fleet strategy and long-term plan. It is probable that the current outlook as stated…will change significantly”

There are pros and cons to maintaining the A321neo in the fleet. For one, the airline already has ten of the type. However, it would not be unprecedented for the airline to either return the aircraft early or else find a new home for those jets at another airline– although most are probably not keen on taking brand new jets.

Unfortunately for the airline, the money spent retrofitting A320 aircraft will be going to waste. Not too different from the situation at Delta with its Boeing 777s.

Mergers are messy for airline fleets

There are few airlines that, if merged, would mesh well together right off the bat. For Alaska and Virgin, the two operated different aircraft types. However, in terms of route networks, Alaska’s position on the West Coast was strengthened through the merger, making it an attractive investment.

When Southwest and AirTran merged, Southwest opted to cut the Boeing 717s in favor of an all-737 fleet. Those aircraft went to Delta Air Lines. Similarly, when Delta and Northwest merged, Delta cut the aging DC-9s and then the 747s. Continental and United merged, leading to the 767-200ERs and 737-500s heading off into the sunset. And, lastly, American has finally retired its oddball A330-300 fleet inherited from its merger with US Airways.

Alaska Airlines has a long and impressive history. However, in recent years, the airline has built up solid Boeing roots. It would not be surprising to see the carrier revert to where it knows how to succeed and fly only Boeing 737s mainline.

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