Alaska Air Group expects to place an order for up to 30 large regional jets in the first quarter of 2016, with deliveries expected to begin in 2017.

The new aircraft will likely have about 76-seats and be operated by regional partner Horizon Air, says the Seattle-based carrier's chief financial officer Brandon Pedersen during an earnings call today.

Those aircraft would partly replace capacity lost as Horizon returns 15 leased Bombardier Q400 turboprops in 2018, he says.

“We are in the final phase of a regional jet campaign,” says Pedersen. “Our intent is for those aircraft to be flown by Horizon if their pilots and flight attendants approve changes to their collective bargaining agreements.”

“Voting is taking place now,” he says.

Executives do not say what type of aircraft Horizon is considering except that they plan to outfit them with three service classes.

That would align the new aircraft with Alaska’s Boeing 737s and its Embraer 175s operated by SkyWest Airlines.

Both of those aircraft types have economy and first class cabins but Alaska announced in December 2015 that it will begin installing premium economy seats to both types later this year.

Pedersen and other executives say more large regional aircraft will enable Alaska to continue adding profitable medium-range routes to its network.

Large regional jets have more range than the Q400s, are more comfortable for passengers and have lower trip costs on stages of more than 400 miles, Pedersen says.

“This is an area where we see plenty of room for profitable growth in 2016 and beyond,” adds Alaska's chief commercial officer Andrew Harrison.

New aircraft in the 76-seat range include current-generation models like the Bombardier CRJ900 and E175 and next-generation models like E175-E2 and Mitsubishi MRJ70.

Executives say they are not seriously considering an aircraft with 100 seats – such as Bombardier’s CS100.

“We have thought about it but right now we are moving forward with a 76-seat regional jet at Horizon,” says Pedersen.

Regional partner SkyWest already operates five E175s and eight Bombardier CRJ700s for Alaska.

However, all eight CRJ700s will be removed from service in 2016 and replaced by 10 new E175s, Alaska's fleet plan shows.

Although Alaska intends to begin operating regional jets under its Horizon division, Pedersen insists SkyWest will continue to operate some regional jets for Alaska.

Source: Cirium Dashboard