ANCHORAGE — The first-ever passenger jet converted for cargo use was unveiled Monday in Alaska, and the arrival spells the end for a unique plane configured for the nation’s largest state.
Alaska Airlines spent $15 million to convert three 737-700s to carry diverse cargo — everything from animals to seafood to groceries to tires — to rural hub communities in this state with few roads.
The two additional cargo planes are still undergoing the conversion process in Tel Aviv.
The new planes increase the cargo capacity load for Alaska by 20 percent over its current fleet of 737-400s.
“This is going to be transformational for the state of Alaska,” said Marilyn Romano, a regional vice president for the Seattle-based airline.
The current fleet of 737-400s has only one dedicated cargo plane, but goods also hitched a ride on passenger jets.
The other planes in the fleet are called combi planes, jets configured specifically for the state of Alaska.
Alaska Airlines is one only major U.S. airline that has combi jets, which carry 72 passengers in the back of the plane. In true business class, cargo filled the half of the plane between the cockpit and the passenger cabin.
It was an efficient way to move people and goods to rural Alaska communities when there wouldn’t have been enough cargo or passengers alone to fill a jet on each trip.
The last remaining combi plane will be retired on the Alaska Day state holiday Oct. 18, which this year marks the 150th anniversary of the formal transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States. The swan song flight will deliver the last remaining combi plane to Seattle from Juneau.