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Alaska Airlines opts to upgrade its Boeing order to larger, pricier 737 Max

UPDATED: Thu., March 3, 2022

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)
By Dominic Gates Seattle Times

In a boost for the Boeing 737 Max program, Alaska Airlines announced Wednesday that it will switch part of its order for the jet from the Max 9 to the larger Max 10.

It will also take a small number of the initial Max version, the Max 8.

The Max 10 is more expensive than the 9. The most recent market pricing data from aircraft valuation firm Avitas estimates the real cost of a Max 10 after standard discounts at about $51.5 million, which is $3.2 million more per jet than the Max 9.

In addition to bringing in extra cash, the order switch is a vote of confidence in the Max 10 model, which is undergoing a prolonged certification process that will delay its first delivery into next year.

It’s the first Max model that has to meet a requirement imposed by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency that it have a third measure of the jet’s angle of attack, which is the angle between the wing and the oncoming air.

A false reading of that critical data point triggered the erroneous flight control system action that caused two Maxes to crash in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.

In addition to the two physical angle-of-attack sensors on either side of the fuselage, Boeing has developed for the Max 10 what’s called a “synthetic” sensor, a computer algorithm that provides an additional, indirect angle-of-attack calculation using a variety of independent sensors and inputs.

The synthetic sensor system will be retrofitted to the Max 8 and Max 9 models now flying.

Because of that new system, Federal Aviation Administration scrutiny of the certification and testing of the Max 10 is extended. Although the plane had its first flight in June , it won’t be certified until next year.

Alaska Airlines has ordered 93 Maxes, of which 14 have been delivered, and it has options to purchase another 52 Maxes on similar terms.

Alaska’s management is focused on growth as the pandemic fades and expects to take all 145 Maxes into its fleet and to shift toward larger airplane models as air travel rebounds.

Until now, its order with Boeing was all Max 9s, but substituting other models is always an option.

Alaska said Wednesday the new plan is to take 60 of the large Max 10s, plus 70 Max 9s and 15 of the smaller Max 8s.

That mix will allow Alaska to tailor the model to the route, using the Max 10 for denser routes with higher passenger traffic and the Max 8 for thinner routes.The airline said it expects to take its first Max 8s in the second half of next year and the first Max 10s in early 2024.

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