Alaska Airlines’ decision to diversify its Boeing MAX order portfolio to include the -8 and -10 as well seems like a logical choice to safeguard future fleet flexibility. By relying on just the MAX 9, the carrier would have been restricted by its range and capabilities. Especially as it will phase out older 737NGs and the ten Airbus A321neo’s in the next few years. Alaska Airlines mixes the MAX fleet and adds the -8 and -10.
The airline announced on March 2 that it would split its unfilled MAX orders, of which 79 are firm and 52 are options. The original plan since converting options on thirteen MAX 9s in May 2021 was to have a fleet of 145 MAX 9s, of which fourteen have been delivered. Alaska now says that it plans to convert fifteen of them into MAX 8s with a 162-seat cabin configuration. First deliveries are scheduled for the second half of 2023. Sixty MAX 9s are converted into the MAX 10, which gets a seating capacity of 189.
“These additional 737 models will enhance Alaska’s ability to meet specific market requirements with optimal aircraft size and capability”, the airline says in a media statement. And that’s to highlight the over-exposure to the MAX 9.
Alaska’s MAX 9s come with 178 seats, which is at the low end of the cabin configuration that goes up to 220 seats in a single-class layout. Boeing advertises its range as 3.550 nautical miles or 6.570 kilometers, but that includes an auxiliary tank inside the fuselage. The range is more than that of the basic 737-900 with 3.200nm/5.926km or the 3.325nm/5.991km of the -900ER. Alaska has twelve -900s and 79 -900ERs (both with 178 seats), but the former are nearing twenty years while the latter are at just 6.1 years. They have some life left in them.
That’s only partly true of the 61 737-800s, which are on average 13.3 years old. They come with 159 seats and have a range of 4.000nm/7.408km. Phasing them out by bringing in the more fuel-efficient and bigger MAX 9 leaves Alaska short of an airliner with a long range. That problem isn’t solved with the introduction of the MAX 8. At 162 seats, it has three more than the -800. But the -8 is behind on range compared to the -800, as it is identical to that of the MAX 9 at 3.500nm/6.570km. The only benefit is that the MAX 8 offers Alaska the flexibility of lower capacity to operate on routes with reduced demand. The press release says that the type is meant for “high-performance and medium-sized markets.”
MAX 10 is hardly a successor to the A321neo
The MAX 10 will get 189 seats. That’s one short of the A321neo of which Alaska inherited ten when it took over Virgin America. Alaska said in January that the leased aircraft could leave the fleet somewhere in the coming years as it transitions to an all-Boeing fleet. With ten A321neo’s versus sixty MAX 10s, you can’t say that the Boeing will be a one-for-one replacement, but it partly fills the upper-end of its seat capacity. However, the 3.300nm/6.110km range of the MAX 10 (including one auxiliary tank) is a far cry from that of the A321neo, which flies 4.000nm/7.400km.
If Alaska would like or need anything that comes close to the Airbus on range, it would also need to have the MAX 7 with a range of 3.850nm/7.130km but has only 152 seats. The decision made and announced today indicates that Alaska Airlines is happy with the specifications of the MAX -8, -9, and -10 and doesn’t need an aircraft with the range of the A321neo. The MAX 10 will become Alaska’s “largest and most efficient aircraft in our long-term fleet.”
As Alaska Airlines mixes the MAX fleet, it is set to become only the third airline to select the MAX 8, -9, and -10. Lion Air and United Airlines are the other two, whereas flydubai’s selection of the MAX 10 needs to be confirmed.
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.