Allegiant Travel Company is beginning a project to add 16 seats to each of the 150-seat MD-81s, MD-82s, MD-83s and MD-88s operated by its...

Allegiant Travel Company is beginning a program to add 16 seats to each of the 150-seat MD-81s, MD-82s, MD-83s and MD-88s operated by its subsidiary Allegiant Air, bringing the total number of saleable seats to 166 on each aircraft.

The company currently operates 48 of the four MD-80 variants and owns an additional nine, which it plans to introduce into service in 2011 and 2012. Allegiant Air also operates three 130-seat MD-87s, which it says will not be re-configured. The company also has bought six Boeing 757-200s, which are not yet in operation and which it will use to launch new routes to Hawaii. In all likelihood Allegiant Air will operate these aircraft in 220-seats-plus configuration.

Allegiant expects to invest up to $50 million in the MD-80 capacity-increase project, which includes substantial cabin re-design work such as removal of galleys. The company expects to convert the first aircraft to the new, higher seat configuration in the third quarter of 2011 and expects to complete the conversions by the end of 2012.

A McDonnell Douglas MD-80 operated by Allegiant Air is photographed at the gate at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport

“These added seats will allow us to grow our capacity with the least amount of risk,” says Andrew Levy, Allegiant’s president. “This project effectively increases our capacity by 11 per cent while lowering our cost per seat. In addition, we expect to fund this through internally generated cash flow.”

Adds Levy: “This new investment in the MD-80 fleet is a sign of our commitment to the aircraft for years to come. It is unquestionably the best aircraft for our business for flights of up to four hours of duration.”

American Airlines, another major U.S. operator of the aging and relatively fuel-inefficient MD-80, is gradually replacing its MD-80s with Boeing 737-800s, but Delta Air Lines – which operates a large fleet of glass-cockpit MD-88s as well as a fleet of IAE2500-powered MD-90s – said in 2009 that it planned to keep its MD-88s in service throughout the foreseeable future because their low capital cost outweighed their relatively high operating cost.

Allegiant says adding more seats to its MD-82s and MD-83s will result in job growth at Allegiant Air, since a fourth flight attendant will be required on the 166-seat configuration aircraft. In 150-seat configuration, the aircraft only fly with three flight attendants in Allegiant service.