Boeing May Be the Loser in Newest Merger


Jason Tews

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 at Boston Logan Intl airport.

Boeing may end up losing some business from a very large customer. For the past few decades, the battle between Boeing and Airbus has heated up. The companies are the two biggest aircraft manufacturers in the world, with their home bases in Everett, Washington and Toulouse, France, respectively.

As most of the attention has been shifted to the battle of the newly-created, extremely fuel efficient, Boeing 737max and the a320neo aircraft, there may be a lesser known battle playing out in Seattle. On March 22, 2017, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines acquired San Francisco-based Virgin America. While this will give Alaska the lead on all West Coast flights, it will also give Airbus a new lead on an American airline.

Virgin America Airbus a320 at Chicago O’Hare Intl. airport

Many have said that Boeing will be the big winner in this merger. However, this may not be the case. In 2008, a similar move was seen between Delta Airlines and Northwestern Airlines. This move was done as Delta tried to be the major carrier in Milwaukee, just as Alaska has done in San Francisco. At the time, Delta had a fleet consisting of only Boeing and McDonnell Douglas aircraft (McDonnell Douglas was bought by Boeing in 1996). Northwest had a fleet built up largely of Airbus aircraft, with the exception of some aging Boeing aircraft. Delta now has 147 Airbus aircraft on order, compared to only 49 Boeing aircraft. While they still fly a large number of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas aircraft, they are set to be retired and replaced by ordered Airbus aircraft.

In 2013, American Airlines had a large merge with US Airways. Again, at the time of the merge American Airlines flew only Boeing and McDonnell Douglas aircraft. US Airways flew mostly Airbus, including one of the largest a321 fleets in the world. American Airlines currently has 124 Airbus aircraft on order, only a few more than the 121 Boeing aircraft on order, showing American may have begun shifting to an Airbus fleet. They are now the largest operator of the a321, and the second largest operator of the a319. However, American is making some shocking moves, as they continue to defer delivery of ordered Airbus aircraft, going against the Airbus favor they show in their number of ordered aircraft. The major plane they have on order is the a321neo, this plane is set to place many of the aging Boeing 757s and 767s in their current fleet.

Alaska Airlines currently has a fleet of 154 Boeing aircraft, with 49 on order. Virgin America has a fleet 65, solely Airbus aircraft, and 38 on order. The question of what manufacturer will become the major supplier in this merger will be hotly debated. Whether Alaska will follow the path of the legacies (United, American, and Delta) or set a new path is unknown, and only time will tell.