Alaska Airlines is buying another 23 Boeing 737 Max jets for a total of 68 and adding new routes to its namesake state

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Alaska Airlines is buying another 23 Boeing 737 Max jets for a total of 68 and adding new routes to its namesake state
Boeing 737 Max aircraft of Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Gol Linhas Aéreas.LINDSEY WASSON/Reuters
  • Alaska Airlines and Boeing signed an agreement in principle for a total of 68 of the 737 Max aircraft with an option for 52 more.
  • Deliveries will take place over the next four years as Alaska uses the jets to replace its Airbus A320 family fleet.
  • Alaska has not yet taken delivery of a Boeing 737 Max yet but plans to fly the jet in March 2021.
  • Anchorage, Alaska will also see three new routes to the Lower 48 and year-round service to Phoenix.

    Alaska Airlines and Boeing just inked an agreement for 23 additional 737 Max aircraft, growing the airline's total order to 68 aircraft to be delivered from 2021 to 2024.

    An agreement in principle for the Max 9 variant, based on the 737-900 Next Generation that Alaska currently flies, was signed on Friday at Boeing Delivery Center in Seattle, just miles from Alaska's primary hub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

    Alaska had just agreed to lease 13 aircraft earlier in December from Air Lease Corporation, which was incorporated in Friday's agreement.

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    The total order will also see an option for an additional 52 aircraft that would grow Alaska's fleet to 120 if exercised. Alaska opted for nine "white-tail" aircraft, or planes that were built but never delivered due to an order cancellation, in the order, CEO Brad Tilden told CNBC, as they were likely more cost effective than buying new builds.

    The number of Max white-tails grew due to the protracted grounding of the Max, which led to order cancellations by airlines around the world over safety concerns. The lack of demand for new aircraft caused by the pandemic only compounded the number of cancellations across the board. Case in point, Air Canada notably canceled 10 Max orders, along with 12 Airbus A220 orders.

    Alaska's order brings the airline closer to once again having an all-Boeing fleet. The 737 Max 9 will replace the A320 family aircraft acquired by the airline in a 2016 merger with Virgin America, though the Airbus A321neo aircraft will stay in the fleet.

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    Currently Alaska's largest aircraft, the A321neo is Airbus' counterpart to the Max 9 with comparable range and seating capacity. While a single-fleet type can help keep pilot training costs low and maximize the efficiency of a pilot pool, the A321neo offers similar levels of fuel efficiency to the Max that will be useful to the airline until Boeing fulfills its orders.

    Alaska is slated to be the third or fourth airline in the US to fly the Max. With a tentative start date of March 1, per Cirium data, it may be beat by Southwest Airlines, which hasn't yet announced a firm return to service date but already has 34 Max jets in its fleet. The first routes for the aircraft in Alaska's schedule are Los Angeles-Portland, Oregon; Seattle-Los Angles, and San Diego, California-Seattle.

    Once delivery is taken of the first model from Boeing, over 50 hours and 19,000 miles will be put on the aircraft to ensure it's safe to fly passengers, Alaska's website states, with proving runs on routes across the US including Hawaii and Alaska.

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    American Airlines is just one week away from flying passengers on the Max again for the first time in 21 months while United Airlines is waiting until February 11, 2021.

    Alaska will be working with passengers who don't want to fly on the Max to rebook them on other aircraft, a spokesperson told Business Insider. All US airlines flying the jet have implemented similar policies in addition to eliminating change fees for most flights.

    New routes to Alaska coming in 2021

    The new year will also see Alaska connect more of its namesake state with the Lower 48 as Anchorage will receive three new routes aimed at leisure travel. Denver, Las Vegas, and San Francisco will all receive direct links to America's largest state, while the existing Anchorage-Phoenix route will be increased to year-round service.

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    Flights to Denver and San Francisco begin on June 17, 2021, until August 16, 2021, and will operate daily. Las Vegas service begins on May 20, 2021, with year-round service. The weekender service will see flights on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

    Alaska will go head-to-head with United on the Denver and San Francisco routes while going untouched on the Las Vegas route. The new year-round service to Phoenix will also compete with American, Alaska's soon-to-be partner in the Oneworld airline alliance.

    It's unclear whether any will be flown with the Boeing 737 Max, though they're all prime candidates for the jet at over 2,000 nautical miles, with the exception of Anchorage-San Francisco at 1,754 nautical miles. For comparison, the Anchorage-Phoenix route is 66 nautical miles longer than the Los Angeles-New York route and is one of the longest in Alaska's route network.

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    Alaska is open to tourists but has entry restrictions in place, similar to Hawaii. Non-resident arrivals need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or pay $250 to have one administered at the airport and self-isolate upon arrival, according to the state government.

    Travelers who have recovered from COVID-19 will need to show proof of a positive test from within 90 days, be asymptomatic on arrival, and show documentation from a medical professional or public health official confirming that isolation isn't required.

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