- Alaska Airlines took delivery of its first Boeing 737 Max on Sunday, the last in the US to do so.
- Pilots and mechanics will undergo additional training while proving runs will be flown across the country.
- The first flight is scheduled for March 1 as AS482 from Seattle to San Diego.
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Alaska Airlines on Sunday inducted a new aircraft into its fleet, the Boeing 737 Max.
The first of a newly restructured order for a whopping 68 aircraft touched down at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after an official handover at the Boeing Delivery Center on the grounds of the aptly-named Boeing Field, just six miles north of Alaska’s Seattle home airport.
“We’ve eagerly waited for this day,” Ben Minicucci, Alaska Airlines’ president, and passenger on the delivery flight said. “It was a proud moment to board our newest 737 aircraft and fly it home. This plane is a significant part of our future.”
What should’ve been a quick flight between the two airports, however, turned into a sightseeing flight around the Olympic Peninsula that sits on the other side of the Puget Sound from downtown Seattle. After nearly an hour in the aircraft, AS9809 flew directly over downtown as it joined the approach for Runway 16, a procedure with which the aircraft will become intimately familiar as it serves Alaska’s primary hub for decades to come.
Alaska had placed its first Max order in 2012 and planned to take delivery of the aircraft in summer 2019. But the worldwide grounding of the Max in March 2019 following the fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight E2302 pushed back those plans as Boeing worked on a fix.
The delivery comes just over two months since the Federal Aviation Administration ungrounded the jet in November 2020 after satisfactory fixes and test flights from Boeing. Since then, airlines in the US, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and Panama have resumed flights with the aircraft.
American Airlines was the first US airline to begin flying the Max again after the 20-month grounding, starting small with one daily round-trip flight between Miami and New York. United Airlines begins flying the aircraft again on February 11 from Denver and Houston while Southwest has only said the jet will fly again in March.
Minicucci also didn’t hold back when addressing the elephant in the room, namely the fears over the aircraft’s safety following two fatal crashes that took the lives of 346 people: “We believe in it, we believe in Boeing and we believe in our employees who will spend the next five weeks in training to ensure we’re ready to safely fly our guests.”
Read more: Boeing may have to shell out billions to airlines after regulators erased one of the 737 Max’s key selling points
Now begins the five-week push to get the aircraft fully ready to fly passengers as Alaska has an ambitious goal of a March 1 start date. The first flight is scheduled as AS482 from Seattle to San Diego, with the Seattle-Los Angeles route also scheduled to be among the first to see the jet that day.
Pilots will undergo an additional eight hours of training before getting behind the wheel of the next-generation aircraft. The training will include two hours of simulator sessions, a requirement that Boeing had initially sought to nix in order to better market the aircraft to airlines.
Mechanics will also undergo up to 40 hours of additional training to learn the differences between the 737 Max and the 737 Next Generation aircraft that are predominately found in Alaska’s mostly Boeing fleet. Some maintenance personnel will also receive an additional 40 hours of specialized training on the aircraft’s engines and avionics systems.
Alaska has vowed to put around 50 hours and 19,000 miles on the aircraft with proving flights around the US before the first paying passenger steps onboard. In that time, the Max will fly to the furthest stretches of Alaska’s route network.
“With the 737-9, we’re going above and beyond with our training program, even more than what the FAA is requesting,” John Ladner, Alaska’s vice president of flight operations and a 737 captain, said. “We have high confidence in this aircraft. It’s a tremendous addition to our fleet, and we’re ready to start flying it in March.”
Passengers still unwilling to fly on the Max will have the opportunity to change their flight, a spokesperson told Insider. Most carriers aren’t hiding the fact that the Max is returning to the skies and the aircraft itself has a few distinguishing features to tell it apart from the 737 Next Generation.
Where the Max will fly beyond the West Coast remains a secret but the aircraft is best suited for the longer flights in the airline’s network. The 737-900ER Next Generation on which the Max 9 traditionally flies to cities like New York, Boston, and Washington, among numerous others, from Seattle.
And if the planned proving runs are any indication, the Max may soon by flying routes to Hawaii, Alaska, and the East Coast so the airline can take advantage of its cost-saving economics.
Alaska’s second Boeing 737 Max will begin passenger flights later in March as the rest of the 68-aircraft order arrives at Seattle-Tacoma International. All delivery flights will also be flown using sustainable aviation fuel provided by Epic Fuels.