Alaska Airlines is moving forward with retiring its Airbus A320 aircraft. The airline has withdrawn even more aircraft in the third quarter as it mulls a fleet shakeup, but a cloud of uncertainty still hangs around the airline’s decisions.
Permanently parking more aircraft
In the third quarter of 2020, Alaska Airlines permanently parked eight additional Airbus A320 aircraft. These eight were among a group of 10 Airbus A320 aircraft that had specifically been identified by the airline for retirement before the end of their expected useful lives.
In the first quarter, Alaska decided to remove 12 Airbus aircraft from its fleet permanently. This included all ten of its Airbus A319s.
As of now, there are no further Airbus retirements anticipated in 2020, though that does not mean that it will stay that way. Alaska Airlines consistently evaluates its fleet, and it may decide to park more of these jets– especially if the Boeing 737 MAX finally enters the airline’s fleet.
Why more retirements would not be shocking
Alaska Airlines has made it no secret that it is a Boeing fan. For years, it was “Proudly all-Boeing” and is now having to deal with a mixed fleet after a merger with Virgin America gave it a fleet of Airbus A319s, A320s, and A321neos. In addition, Alaska Airlines also has cancelable purchase commitments for 30 Airbus A320neo jets.
However, this order was not directly placed by Alaska Airlines. The airline has 32 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on order, with options for 37 more of the type. For a while, it made sense to keep both aircraft orders around. Now, however, it is time for Alaska Airlines to make a decision on what it wants to do with both orders as it mulls a fleet shakeup
It has become clear that Alaska Airlines is looking to get rid of its Airbus fleet as best as it can in recent months. It has to also contend with leasing agreements that are not as appealing to break.
Now, with cost-cutting and a return to profitability on the airline’s mind, the carrier is reverting to what it knows: fleet simplicity. Alaska is more comfortable with its 737 fleet and has shown no qualms about taking on the 737 MAX once it comes back to service. As such, if the airline can secure 737 MAX deliveries at the end of the year, or even in early 2021, it might push the airline’s fleet time to withdraw more A320s from the fleet.
Given Alaska’s comments, there are probably only a few years left of the Airbus fleet flying in the airline’s livery. As leases expire over the next three years, they will likely be retired unless the airline gets a fantastic deal on those jets.
Why Alaska Airlines is keeping its Airbus A320neo order
Alaska Airlines is playing it smart here. Right now, it knows that it has opportunities at both Boeing and Airbus to take on newer, next-generation aircraft at a price. This especially plays out as Alaska Airlines is reportedly in discussion with Boeing for more 737 MAX jets. Since it is not necessarily a given that Boeing will win an order, the airline can likely score attractive pricing– attractive enough that it might just order more Airbus jets. The A321neos are a bit of a shining jewel in Alaska’s fleet, and the airline has praised the jet.
It is not a given that the airline will convert its A320neo order to A321neos, nor that it will cancel the planes outright. However, for now, it is clear that the Airbus A320s are on their way out. Alaska Airlines has shown that it will retire its aircraft even before the end of its service lifetime, which is a decision few airlines take unless they need to ensure a certain cost structure that relies on lower maintenance and fewer inefficiencies.
If Alaska Airlines takes on more 737 MAX aircraft, especially the white tail ones Boeing is trying to sell, it would be all but certain that the A320 family is heading out for good.
Are you sad to see Alaska Airlines retire more Airbus A320 aircraft? Let us know in the comments!