Chester will fly on fewer aircraft types sooner than planned. Alaska Airlines announced an accelerated fleet harmonization plan on Thursday, dropping the Q400 and Airbus A320 family aircraft from its operations by the end of next year.
We’re well positioned to continue that trend, leveraging loyalty, alliances, network growth and our brand to unlock significant value and deliver $400 million of incremental revenue as part of our 2025 strategic plan. Accelerating our transition to single fleets while upgauging for growth is also a key part of that strategy.– Ben Minicucci, Chief Executive Officer of Alaska Air Group
Over the past 18 months Alaska Airlines grew its 737 MAX order book, including addition of the MAX 8 and MAX 10 to the plans earlier this month. With this new mix and accelerated MAX delivery schedule, Alaska Airlines feels comfortable retiring its small fleet of 10 A321neo planes by the end of 2023.
The A320s were already expected to disappear relatively quickly. Removing the A321neo fleet by the end of 2023 is far more aggressive. The move is also “subject to agreement with counterparties,” which is to say that the carrier must still negotiate the early termination of leases, currently slated to run through 2030.
Removing the small sub-fleet of Airbus aircraft should help the company reduce costs significantly, as it can more efficiently use crew, reduce maintenance spares, and otherwise optimize the operations.
At the time of the announcement the company had not yet finalized the plans to return or sublease the aircraft. It now expects better overall finances from paying the lease on planes removed from service than keeping the small fleet operating.
Removing the Q400 from its Horizon subsidiary operations by the end of next year is a more unexpected move. The fleet currently consists of 32 turboprops, all operated on behalf of the parent carrier.
The removal of the Q400 raises questions about the viability of some routes, as well. Alaska Airlines currently uses its Q400s exclusively in roughly a dozen markets.
The move also raises questions about which other routes commonly operated with the Q400 plus other types might see a reduction in frequency of service or other changes.
From a passenger perspective, the retirement of the Q400 also delivers a sobering change to the in-flight experience. Alaska Airlines offers free beer or wine on board the Q400s. That same benefit does not apply on the E175 regional jets. With the props retiring over the next 20 months that means the free drinks likely will as well.
The Q400 retirement also means removal of the final subset of the fleet without in-flight WiFi service on board. Alaska Airlines will, at the end of 2023, join Southwest Airlines and JetBlue as the only US airlines with all its planes equipped for internet on board. JetBlue does, however, operate a number of flights outside its coverage area.
Rather less notably, the move also likely means far fewer special aircraft liveries flying. The Q400 fleet features a number of planes painted to support colleges in the Pacific Northwest. The E75s could be tapped to serve that role, but today they do not.
Also unclear with the move is what it means for the future of Q400s flying on Hydrogen power. Last October the company announced a partnership with ZeroAvia to develop a powertrain for the type. The deal included Alaska Airlines investing in the company and options for 50 conversion kits. Perhaps the Q400 could return once that is ready to fly, but it seems an unlikely outcome of this effort.
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