European aircraft maker Airbus on Thursday delivered the first A321neo off the company’s assembly line to long-time customer Virgin America, which is now part of Alaska Air Group Inc. (NYSE: ALK). Virgin America has been a long-time customer of Airbus and before Thursday’s delivery flew 63 of the company’s A319s and A320s.
Each A321neo is powered by two CFM LEAP-1A engines, and they will become the largest planes in the Virgin America fleet, with seating capacity for 185 passengers in two classes on routes up to about 3,750 nautical miles. That’s enough range to fly nonstop from Anchorage to Miami.
The meaning of yesterday’s delivery can’t have been lost on Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA). Alaska flies Boeing’s 737 exclusively and has a fleet of 158 the planes with 46 unfilled orders including 32 for the new 737 MAX.
But even Boeing’s 737 MAX 9, which the company took on its first test flight just last week, does not come with the credentials of the A321neo. In a two-class configuration, the plane’s passenger capacity is slightly less than the A321neo’s at 178, its range is slightly less at 3,515 nautical miles. The MAX 9 uses two CFM LEAP-1B engines.
The Airbus orders and deliveries spreadsheet shows no A321neos on order from Virgin America nor is there an entry in the spreadsheet for Alaska Airlines, which has never ordered an Airbus commercial jet.
Still, the A321neo claims 1,385 orders of a total of more than 5,500 for single-aisle Airbus planes. Boeing’s latest order book shows 3,703 orders for the 737 MAX but does not specify how many orders have been placed for each variation of the plane. There are believed to be about 500 orders for the MAX 9.
The first commercial flight for the Virgin America A321neo is set for May 31, originating in San Francisco and terminating in Washington, D.C. Alaska Air has announced that the Virgin America brand will disappear in 2019.