MIAMI – Alaska Airlines (AS) announced that it has taken delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX 9 (N913AK) from the Seattle based manufacturer. AS Pilots flew the aircraft from Seattle Boeing Delivery Center at Boeing Field to the carrier’s hangar located Sea-Tac Airport just a few miles away with a small group of the company’s top leadership.
“We’ve eagerly waited for this day. It was a proud moment to board our newest 737 aircraft and fly it home,” said Alaska Airlines President Ben Minicucci. “This plane is a significant part of our future. We believe in it, we believe in Boeing and we believe in our employees who will spend the next five weeks in training to ensure we’re ready to safely fly our guests.”
Initial 737 MAX Order
Alaska Airlines placed its initial Boeing 737 MAX order back in January 2012 when it had originally ordered 37 of the type, 20 as the MAX -8 and 17 MAX -9 as it was announced at an employee meeting. Nine years later the carrier is finally getting its first with three more right behind it being prepped for delivery from Boeing.
The carrier will configure its Boeing 737-9 MAX the exact same way it currently configures its 737-900ER with 16 first-class seats, 24 premium economy seats, and 138 economy seats for an overall total of 178 seats.
“Our Pilots are the best trained in the industry. With the 737-9, we’re going above and beyond with our training program, even more than what the FAA is requesting,” said John Ladner, an Alaska 737 captain and vice president of flight operations. “We have high confidence in this aircraft. It’s a tremendous addition to our fleet, and we’re ready to start flying it in March.”
Boeing 737 MAX Test Flights
Teams from across various divisions at AS will now follow a strict readiness timeline that guides the actions that must be taken before the start of passenger flights. The process – involving rigorous rounds of test flying, verifying and specific preparations – will take five weeks:
- Maintenance technicians will undergo training to become even more acquainted with the new aircraft. They will receive at least 40 hours of “differences training,” which distinguishes the variations between the new MAX and the airline’s existing 737 NG fleet. Certain technicians will receive up to 40 additional hours of specialized training focused on the plane’s engines and avionics systems.
- Alaska’s pilots will put the 737-9 through its paces, flying it more than 50 flight hours and roughly 19,000 miles around the country, including to Alaska and Hawaii. These “proving flights” are conducted to confirm our safety assessments and those of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and to ensure a full understanding of the plane’s capabilities in different climates and terrain.
- Our pilots will receive eight hours of MAX-specific, computer-based training prior to flying the aircraft over the course of two days, which includes at least two hours of training in Alaska’s own certified, state-of-the-art MAX flight simulator. That’s where they fly several maneuvers specific to the aircraft and better understand the improvements that have been made to the plane.
ETOPS Certified Aircraft
So far, the first four AS Boeing 737 MAX 9 that have rolled off the Boeing Renton final assembly line are all coming ETOPS-certified, meaning the carrier may be looking to eventually expand the type on the airline’s West Coast to Hawaii routes. It is unknown when AS may use the type on these routes. Air Canada (AC) had previously been using its Boeing 737 MAX 8 type on its Vancouver to Honolulu routes.
Alaska Airlines plans to introduce the Boeing 737 MAX 9 in March, launching the type on its Seattle to Los Angeles and San Diego markets along with flying it from Portland to Los Angeles. The second Boeing 737 MAX 9 will arrive later in March. The carrier is scheduled to receive 13 planes this year; 30 in 2022; 13 in 2023; and 12 in 2024. The agreement incorporates AS’ announcement from last November to lease 13 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft as part of a separate transaction.
Passengers will be notified that they are flying on a MAX before they depart and be given the option to switch without incurring any fee if they feel uncomfortable flying on the type. This policy matches what other US airlines are currently doing.
A Long-standing Relationship
Alaska Airlines is thus continuing to build on its long-standing relationship with Boeing, showing it is committed to the MAX type despite the recent long grounding. The carrier announced that it would lease 13 more in November shortly after the FAA announced that the type was ungrounded it ready to return to service.
The Seattle based airline followed that up with an additional order for another 23 Boeing 737 MAX 9 with an option for another 15 just three days before Christmas, gifting Boeing a huge boost for the type and showing its commitment to the Seattle based manufacturer.
Overall, the carrier has an order for up to 120 737 MAX aircraft if it takes the options along with the committed aircraft. AS has retired its entire A319 fleet and is trying to expedite the retirement of the A320 CEO; the COVID 19 Global Pandemic quickly accelerated that.
For now, the airline plans to at least keep its 10 Airbus A321 NEO already delivered, meaning it is still not back to being “Proudly All Boeing” just yet as it says on the nose of every Boeing 737 fuselage. The carrier does still have an order it inherited from its merger with Virgin America for 30 A320 NEO. It is unknown what the official status of that order is as it was a committed order.
The carrier could always choose to upgrade the order to all A321 NEO, but at best guess, the airline is focused on going back to a single fleet type, which it had from 2008 until it completed its merger with Virgin America (VX) in 2016. Since then, AS has had a mixed fleet, which drives up training and maintenance costs as it must keep parts for multiple manufacturers vs just needing parts for only Boeing aircraft.
The MAX’s Return in the US
This will be the fourth airline overall in the US to begin 737 MAX service, third since the ungrounding was announced in November behind American Airlines (AA), which resumed MAX service on December 29 on its Miami to La Guardia route, and United Airlines (UA), which will put the Boeing 737 MAX 9 back into service on February 11 from its Denver and Houston hubs.
Alaska Airlines will have the MAX back in service before Southwest Airlines (WN) does. WN is the largest operator of the type. You can learn more about AS’ confidence in the safety and certification of the MAX at alaskaair.com/737MAX
As a final but important note, deliveries of AS’ Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft by Boeing will be flown with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which helps the aviation industry reduce CO2 emissions on a life-cycle basis. The SAF will be used on all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft deliveries and will be supplied by Epic Fuels.
Featured image: Brandon Farris/Airways