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Alaska Airlines orders 10 new Boeing 737s

TACOMA, Wash. -- Alaska Airlines announced plans Monday to improve its fleet's capacity and efficiency with 10 new Boeing 737-900ER jets.

The SeaTac carrier's order is worth some $990 million at list prices, but airlines typically pay as little as 60 percent of those prices if they are good Boeing customers. The airline's fleet is made up of 135 Boeing 737s.

The airline said the new aircraft will be used to replace some of the company's oldest aircraft, its 21 737-400s, and to provide new capacity to reach new cities and to increase passenger capacity on existing flights. The 737-900ER holds 181 passengers in Alaska's seating configuration. The 737-400 carries 144 passengers.

The airline said the larger, more efficient 737-900ER transports those 181 passengers using the same amount of fuel as the 737-400 does for 144 customers.

With the new order, the airline has 74 737s on order from Boeing. The airline's fleet will be equipped with scimitar-shaped wingtips designed by Seattle's Aviation Partners. Those wingtips are expected to shave fuel consumption by 1.5 percent over the blended wingtips now installed on much of Alaska's fleet.

Alaska has rapidly expanded its capacity in recent years both by introducing larger aircraft into its fleet and by installing new, thinner seats that allow additional rows in each plane. Alaska is engaged in a competition with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines for market share at Sea-Tac. Alaska dominates the airport with 51 percent of the traffic. Delta is in second place.

Delta has created an international hub at Sea-Tac Airport in the last two years and has added dozens of connecting domestic flights to Seattle to serve those international flights. Many of those flights serve routes on which Alaska had earned a dominant share of passengers.

Alaska has rapidly expanded its repertoire of routes from Seattle in the last year serving such new destinations as Detroit, Baltimore, Tampa, New Orleans, Albuquerque, Omaha, Colorado Springs and Philadelphia.

New traffic results for September for Alaska Airlines reflect a small reduction in the airline's passenger load factor (the percentage of seats filled by paying passengers) over the same month in 2013. The airline said its passenger load factor for last month was 81.9 percent, compared with 82.6 for September 2013. That figure is for both Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, a regional airline owned by the same holding company as Alaska. Horizon flies shorter, regional routes under contract for Alaska.

Meanwhile, Boeing last week announced it will raise the output of its Renton plant, which builds 737s, to 52 a month in 2018 to meet demands for new aircraft from airlines. The plant now produces 42 737s monthly.

Alaska Airlines' available seat miles grew by 9.9 percent in September, but its passenger traffic grew by 9 percent, the airline said.