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Alaska Airlines Introduces New One-of-a-Kind

Converted Cargo Aircraft, Lower Pricing


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The one-of-a-kind, converted Alaska Airlines cargo plane.

Image by Charles Bell

Alaska Air Cargo is flying cargo around the state in the world’s first converted 737-700 freighter. The aircraft is the first ever to be converted from a “combi” (half cargo, half passenger plane) to an all-freight aircraft able to carry 42,000 pounds per flight. The new Boeing 737-700’s maiden voyage was out of Seattle in late September. Alaska Airlines waited until the aircraft reached the Alaska Airlines cargo hangars in Anchorage to celebrate the one-of-a-kind aircraft in its home state.

Image by Charles Bell

Alaska Airlines team celebrates the arrival of the first converted Boeing 737-700 cargo aircraft.

“Alaska is not just our namesake, we’re proud to be part of Alaska. These planes are going to be flying here primarily. Alaska is what made us who we are and these airplanes will help complement our existing services here,” says Jason Berry, Alaska Air Cargo managing director. “This is also part of our investment in Alaska and our 20/20 plan. Everything we’re doing is part of that: all the upgrades, new hangar, investments in terminals. It’s all so exciting because we are still Alaska Airlines and we’re committed to this state and making sure we’ve got the right assets for Alaska.”

Berry says operating an all-freight fleet allows the company to focus on its cargo business as a stand-alone operation to better meet the needs of its cargo customers.

"We chose a dedicated freighter fleet because when look at a combi-fleet, you see it is half passenger and half cargo, but it typically flies what is best for the passenger schedule. But that leaves cargo customers—who, for example, may have a whole bunch of fish to pick up because it’s fishing season—with only half a plane available for cargo and with the plane having to work with passenger and cargo schedules,” says Berry.

The answer: decouple from the passenger side in order to run a schedule that is best for cargo customers. “We each run independently of each other and this way we get the best of both worlds. There is not a compromise we have to make. This way we can maximize the potential of each side, both cargo and passenger,” he says.

The new aircraft was converted over a nineteen-month period in Tel Aviv by Israel Aerospace Industries. Alaska pilots flew the converted plane from Tel Aviv to Belfast in early September. From there, the plane first touched down on US soil in Bangor, Maine, and continued on to Greensboro, North Carolina, for scheduled maintenance. The aircraft was painted in Victorville, California, before arriving in Seattle.

“This is a Boeing 737-700 Next Gen and because it’s a next-generation airplane it is so much more cost effective… it’s more fuel efficient, it can carry more per flight and with that we’ve rolled out new pricing. We’re lowering our rates. So the price savings we’re getting with these new airplanes, we’re passing that directly along to the community. This change is bringing great pricing and a consistent, reliable airplane… these really are the best in breed,” says Berry.

Image by Charles Bell

The Boeing 737-700 makes its maiden landing in Alaska.

Two more converted 737-700 converted freighters, which have a nonstop range of 3,200 miles, are scheduled for delivery to Alaska Air Cargo in November and December, allowing the new, all-cargo fleet to carry 15 percent more capacity overall; though smaller in size, the 737-700 freighter can carry 10,000 more pounds of cargo per plane compared to Alaska's current 737-400 freighter. In addition to the 737-400 freighter, the company operates four 737-400 combi aircraft, which carry both passengers and cargo. Alaska plans to retire its entire 737-400 combi fleet by October 18.

The new fleet of all-freight aircraft will primarily serve Alaska, providing regular, scheduled service to seventeen communities statewide. Independent of Alaska Airlines' passenger operation, Alaska Air Cargo will provide more scheduled freight service than any other carrier in the state and connect customers to one hundred destinations across the airline's route network.

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