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Formerly All-Boeing Alaska Air To Keep Airbus Jets 'For The Foreseeable Future'

Virgin America shareholders have approved the airline's acquisition by rival Alaska Airlines.
Alaska Airlines
Virgin America shareholders have approved the airline's acquisition by rival Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines executives say the integration of former rival Virgin America is proceeding on track. Parent company Alaska Air Group updated Wall Street analysts on the merger at an "Investor Day" briefing in New York City Wednesday.

One thing left up in the air was how long Alaska will keep Virgin America's Airbus fleet. Chief Financial Officer Brandon Pedersen noted Alaska Airlines had long operated an all-Boeing fleet until late last year.

"Regardless of the decision we make, Airbus airplanes will be with us for a long time because it would extraordinarily expensive to return those airplanes early. We need the lift,” Pedersen said. “We're going to be an Airbus customer for the foreseeable future."

Pedersen said most of the 68 Airbus jets in Virgin's fleet this year are on leases that run through at least 2021. He said Alaska Air will announce a decision by the end of this year whether to remain a mixed fleet operator long term or go back to an all-Boeing fleet.

Last week, Seattle-based Alaska announced it will retire the Virgin America brand and repaint those planes likely sometime in 2019.

On Wednesday, the combined airline's top brass added that it will standardize the First Class cabins resulting in plusher seats with more legroom than Alaska currently offers, but less space than Virgin's current First Class offering.

Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said his team evaluated whether to offer "lie-flat" seats on transcontinental flights to keep pace with larger competitors, but decided that was not worth it.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.
Tom Banse
Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.