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By Dan Rudy 

Airline to phase out 737-400 Combi aircraft


Local air travelers were invited to the airport for a question-and-answer session August 25.

A delegation of managers with Alaska Airlines fired up a grill out front, fielding questions people may have about the phasing out of the services “combi” fleet next year.

Since its introduction in 2007, the 737-400 combi has been a unique facet of travel within the state, combining cargo conveyance with passenger service in the main cabin. Until it phases them out, Alaska Airlines is the only major domestic carrier to still use the combination jet.

“Theyre pretty unique in the industry,” explained Adam Drouhard, Alaska Airlines director of cargo revenue, planning and postal affairs. “Its something weve been a part of a long time and will be, too.”

In its stead, the planes routes will be picked up by three Boeing 737-700s, which are being refitted for dedicated cargo use. With work beginning in February, the first should be ready by October or early November, said Alaska Airlines cargo call center manager, Kevin Larson.

“Were excited about it,” he commented. The incoming aircraft will not only outperform the 400s, but will be more efficient as well. As a result, the airlines minimum weight limit for shipments will be lowered, and the 700s will be able to haul up to 40,000 pounds of cargo at a time rather than the combis 14,000-pound load.

Each step of the repurposing process is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, and once the first freighter is finished Larson said the next two should be ready in short order. They should all be in service by the end of next summer, by which time the 400 series will be retired.

Because of their unique status in the industry, Drouhard said a number of flight enthusiasts and airline professionals have been booking seats for the combis final season. Like the cargo service, passenger service will be taken on by its own dedicated Alaska Airlines 700- and 800-series Boeings.

The planes will offer full service, which may translate into a more consistent experience for the states air travelers. Flights will be able to carry more people as well, with the 700s holding 112 economy-class passengers and 12 in first class. The 800s can accommodate 147 economy passengers and 16 in first. The planes will also offer upgraded options for longer runs, and premium economy class.

On the cargo side of things, having a dedicated freight fleet will allow more flexibility in scheduling for the company.

“Its going to bring a lot of benefits,” Larson said. Freight pricing should become a bit more competitive as a result, and the 700s expanded range opens possibilities to reach more distant markets. Able to travel nearly 3,000 nautical miles, the series has a 50-percent increase over the 400-series combi.

Larson expected the airline would work to keep scheduling consistent during the upcoming transition, with a freighter stopping through every day of the week.

“Well make sure were here on a consistent basis,” he said.

Last year Alaska Airlines moved over 170 million pounds of cargo, including mail and freight. A sizable portion of that was seafood, moving 21 million pounds of fish and crab from Alaska fishing ports to markets across the country.


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