VirginAmerica_A321neo_03.jpg Airbus

Alaska Keeping Open Mind On 737 vs. A320

Leases will give airline extended exposure to Airbus narrowbodies.

Long-time Boeing 737 operator Alaska Airlines says it has time to evaluate the Airbus A320 as part of integrating Virgin America, and isn't making any commitments to what its fleet will look like in a decade.

Speaking at a recent investor conference, Alaska Air Group CFO Brandon Pedersen said that while the carrier remains loyal to the venerable Boeing narrowbody, the Virgin A320s are not going anywhere anytime soon. 

"Reality is, we went and bought an airline that was proudly an all-Airbus operator, and so we're working with both those fleet types right now," he said. "Both are great airplanes, and in terms of what we do over the long term, we'll see."

Aviation Daily reported in late August that Alaska will operate the Virgin A320-family aircraft until their leases run out—six to seven years, in most cases. While many assume that Alaska will then revert to an all-737 mainline operation, Pedersen suggested that Airbus may have a shot at winning over the Seattle-based carrier.

"We've got some time to figure it out. We're going to get to know the airplanes, get to know Airbus," he said.

Alaska, the 737-900 launch customer with a November 1997 order, has operated an all-737 mainline fleet for about a decade.

"We are very, very loyal to the Boeing company and love the product that they have," Pedersen said. 

As of June 30, Alaska had 221 mainline aircraft, including 65 Airbuses acquired in its purchase of Virgin, announced in March. Virgin put the A321neo into service in April, and brought along commitments for 10, as well as 30 A320neos, to Alaska. It also placed the first A320neo order, in December 2010.

At June 30, Alaska's fleet plan called for it to add a net total of 19 mainline aircraft by 2020, including four Airbus narrowbodies. It has commitments to 737 Maxs and -900ERs.

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