Formerly all-Boeing Alaska Air to keep Airbus jets for ‘foreseeable future’

(Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines and Virgin Airlines)

Alaska Airlines executives say the integration of former rival Virgin America is proceeding on track. Parent company Alaska Air Group updated Wall Street analysts on the merger at an “Investor Day” briefing in New York City on Wednesday.

One thing left up in the air was how long Alaska will keep Virgin America’s Airbus fleet. Chief Financial Officer Brandon Pedersen noted Alaska Airlines had long operated an all-Boeing fleet until late last year.

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“Regardless of the decision we make, Airbus airplanes will be with us for a long time because it would extraordinarily expensive to return those airplanes early. We need the lift,” Pedersen said. “We’re going to be an Airbus customer for the foreseeable future.”

Pedersen said most of the 68 Airbus jets in Virgin’s fleet this year are on leases that run through at least 2021. He said Alaska Air will announce a decision by the end of this year whether to remain a mixed fleet operator long term or go back to an all-Boeing fleet.

Last week, Seattle-based Alaska announced it will retire the Virgin America brand and repaint those planes likely sometime in 2019.

On Wednesday, the combined airline’s top brass added that it will standardize the First Class cabins resulting in plusher seats with more legroom than Alaska currently offers, but less space than Virgin’s current First Class offering.

Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said his team evaluated whether to offer “lie-flat” seats on transcontinental flights to keep pace with larger competitors, but decided that was not worth it.

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