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May 27, 2024
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There is, apparently, a “Great Fleet Question” going on at Alaska Airlines. The A319s are out because they were the “least efficient aircraft” in the fleet. Instead, the airline will acquire MAX9s as replacements – the airline does not explain the logic of exchanging a 130-seater for a ~180-seater. It is quite clear they are vastly different aircraft.

So what does the data show us about the Alaska fleet? It’s true the A319 is the least efficient aircraft at the airline, along with the 737-700.  The following chart shows these two aircraft in the unhappy quadrant.

The chart also shows the 737-800 and the -900ER as far cheaper to operate.  The A321neo is in a class by itself, pretty much as it is at other airlines operating that aircraft. We can also the A321neo is a small part of the Alaska operation.

Alaska’s deployment of the A319 and A320 is quite similar to that of other US operators in terms of range at between 900 to 1,000 miles. The table below shows the Alsaka fleet.

Looking at another aspect of the Alaska fleet’s activities, we note the following.

  • The 737-800 and -900ER are operating close to the stage lengths of the A321neo and at better load factors.
  • The A319 and A320 have not been successful at Alaska, but then they were merged into the fleet and acquired from a different operating strategy at Virgin America.

But as we see in the table below, Alaska did not exploit the A319 and A320 the way its peers have. The US average seating on an A319 is 134 and on the A320 it’s 162.  This suggests Alsaka crimped these two aircraft from their full capabilities. So, of course, the A319’s numbers look (relatively) poor. If the A319 was such a poor performer, why would American and United be acquiring more in the second-hand market?

Moreover, even as the Virgin America fleet was something of an orphan at Alaska, Airbus did make some inroads. And it’s the A321neo that is looking rather good.  The 737-800 is declining in ASMs while the 737-900ER is growing. Neither of these aircraft can match the A321neo.  Will the MAX9 offer better competition for the A321neo?  Based on the market’s expectations (in terms of orders) the answer is No. But will Alaska keep a sub-fleet, even if it’s a superb performer?

What do aircraft operating cost comparisons look like? The next table shows the industry numbers compared to Alaska.  We see the airline does well on Boeing aircraft (737-700 excepted), but poorly on the A329 and A320  – no doubt because of the seating issue mentioned above.

In summary, the decision to remove the A319s and A320s makes sense because Alaska did not embrace these aircraft by optimizing like its peers.  Will the MAX9 be better for the airline than the A319? Hard to say as they such different aircraft. Based on the small amount of MAX9 data from the short period they flew so far, it looks like the MAX9 will cheaper to operate than the A319.  But will traffic loads warrant the much larger aircraft? On the other hand, in the competition between the MAX9 and the A321neo, the latter is likely to offer stiff competition. But the sub-fleet issue is a real issue for Airbus to overcome.

author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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