Let no crisis go to waste is seemingly the slogan for both Alaska Airlines and Ryanair, who have reiterated their support for the Boeing 737 MAX, which has not flown commercially since its grounding in March 2019. The two airlines, which own a substantial amount of Boeing 737 aircraft, have expressed their support for the troubled jet in their own separate ways.
Since the grounding following the second fatal crash of the type in Ethiopia in March 2019, airline orders for the Boeing 737 MAX were very few and far between. While International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of such airlines as British Airways, Iberia and others broke headlines when it signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) for the aircraft, firm orders were vastly overshadowed by cancellations. If Boeing finished 2019 with a backlog of around 4,000 aircraft, now, the backlog stands at 3,365 aircraft, shows latest data from the manufacturer.
In total, throughout 2019 and 2020, Boeing booked 52 firm orders for the 737 MAX, including two business-configured 737s and 33 aircraft attributed to unidentified customers.
Alaska Airlines sale-and-leaseback and order
Alaska Airlines seemingly shot two birds with one stone as it got rid of an aircraft type it does not plan to use for long, and renewed its fleet with an aircraft that has long been a part of the airline.
The Seattle-based carrier announced that it had entered into a sale-and-leaseback and a lease agreement with Air Lease Corporation (ALC). Firstly, it would sell and then lease back 10 Airbus A320 aircraft. The lease will be “for a short period of time,” according to Alaska Airlines press release issued on November 23, 2020.
In return for the SLB transaction, Alaska Airlines will lease 13 brand new Boeing 737 MAX-9 aircraft from ALC. The airline plans to receive the aircraft starting in Q4 2021, with the last delivery taking place sometime in 2022.
“We found an opportunity to sell 10 planes that are not in our long-term plans and replace them with 13 of the most efficient narrow-body aircraft available,” stated the chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Alaska Airlines Brad Tilden.
According to the airline, the Boeing 737 MAX is 20% more fuel-efficient and generates 20% fewer emissions than the out-going Airbus A320 aircraft, which are equipped with the older generation engines than the A320neo family.
Alaska Airlines had zero Boeing 737 MAX aircraft delivered to them prior to the grounding in March 2019. Three airframes, namely Manufacturer Serial Numbers (MSN) 44079, 4408 and 44081, were built by Boeing throughout 2019, and are awaiting delivery to the carrier. Furthermore, Alaska Airlines has 32 MAXs on order. Five of those jets will be delivered by Summer 2021.
All in all, Alaska Airlines has 166 Boeing 737s in its fleet in addition to the 68 Airbus A320 family aircraft, according to planespotters.net data. The airline indicated that it plans to phase out a large portion of its Airbus fleet – going forward, 39 Airbus A320 and 10 Airbus A321neo aircraft will bear the colors of Alaska Airlines. In addition, it has 30 Airbus A320neo aircraft on order.
Ryanair at the forefront
Meanwhile, Ryanair wants to be at the forefront of a new Boeing 737 MAX order. A firm believer ever since the crisis began in March 2019, the Irish low-cost carrier is currently negotiating an order for the aircraft.
“I would be reasonably hopeful, but there is a lot of work for us to do with Boeing over the next couple of weeks and months if we’re going to reach an agreement,” the chief executive of the Ryanair Group Michael O’Leary told Reuters in an interview. On the negotiation table, according to O’Leary was “the existing order pricing and increasing the scale of our current orders.”
The Irish executive is hopeful to reach a deal with Boeing by the end of 2020 or in early-2021, a similar timeline that the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) depicted for the return-to-service of the Boeing 737 MAX.
In its latest financial update on November 2, 2020, the low-cost carrier indicated that it expects the first Boeing 737 MAX to arrive in Ireland in Q1 2021, with around 30 aircraft flying during the peak Summer months. In total, Ryanair has 135 firm and 75 options for the 737 MAX, including the Boeing 737 MAX 8-200, a high-density, 197-seat version of the 737 MAX-8.
“The 737 MAX game changer is the “gamechanger”,” emphasized O’Leary in early-November 2020, as the company presented its H1 FY21 financial results. “The lower-cost 737 MAX aircraft will drive Ryanair’s European Union (EU) market share in a post-COVID world.”
While the number of aircraft that the airline is negotiating over is not yet clear, reports in early-October 2020 speculated that Ryanair was looking at between 150 and 200 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.