Allegiant introduces new planes that are comfier, more efficient

Maurice J. Gallagher Jr., chairman/CEO of Allegiant Air, walks through the company’s new Airbus A319 passenger jet during an aircraft “open house” for employees at McCarran International Airport Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. The new jet is more fuel efficient than the company’s current jets.

First Look: Allegiant Air Airbus 319

A new Allegiant Air Airbus A319 passenger jet is parked at a gate at McCarran International Airport Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. The new jet is more fuel efficient than the company's current jets. Launch slideshow »

Allegiant Air recently debuted a new line of airplanes that executives say will be more reliable and more efficient.

The company, which is based in Las Vegas, parked a freshly painted Airbus A319 twin-engine jet at McCarran International Airport’s D gates to give employees and airport executives a first look at the 156-seat plane. The next day, it went into service, running routes between Mesa, Ariz., Duluth, Minn., and Fargo, N.D.

The plane is the first of 18 Airbus jets the company will acquire. Seven 177-seat Airbus A320 jets will be delivered by fall, and two more A319s will be painted with Allegiant colors by the end of the year.

By 2014, Allegiant will have nine A320s and nine A319s. The A320s were bought from Spain’s Iberia Airlines, the A319s from Great Britain’s EasyJet.

“There are a lot of positives with this,” said Kris Bauer, Allegiant’s senior vice president of operations. “Not only will these newer planes be more reliable, we expect to save 25 percent on fuel burn.”

The Airbus jets can fly greater distances than Allegiant’s current fleet of MD-80 jets and can be used at airports with shorter runways. That means Allegiant can expand its destination list. The company typically flies between small cities passed over by major airlines and resort destinations, such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Orlando, Fla., and Tampa, Fla.

The company will retire four twin-engine MD-80s by July and dedicate one plane exclusively to charter flights to and from Wendover on the Nevada-Utah border.

“It initially will be just a fill-in,” Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher said. “There’s a learning curve we have to come up with. It’ll probably take us a minimum of six months, if not a year, before we have enough numbers and parts and support to do this well.”

Although the Airbus jets have the range to fly from coast to coast or from the West Coast to Hawaii, Gallagher doesn’t expect to enter the hyper-competitive transcontinental market.

Still, Gallagher views the jets as game-changers for Allegiant. Not only do they have greater capacity than the 166-seat MD-80s, their more fuel-efficient engines are quieter.

Allegiant’s longtime strategy has been to buy used jets that still have flight hours in them.

For example, Allegiant scooped up MD-80s from American Airlines at discounted prices and built its fleet around them. The company expects to use the same strategy with the Airbus jets, but Gallagher said the turnover will be gradual.

The seats in the Airbus jets will be slightly more comfortable for passengers because they are about an inch wider. A larger cabin allows for six seats per row instead of the MD-80s’ five.

“Our goal is to exceed expectations,” Gallagher said. “To say we’ve come a long way would be an understatement.”

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