Alaska Airlines has accepted delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX 9 as it begins to improve its fleet to improve overall efficiency and profitability.

Alaska pilots flew on Sunday on a short flight from the Boeing Delivery Center at Boeing Field in Seattle to the company’s hangar at Sea-Tac International Airport with a small group of Alaska’s top leaders on board.

“We’ve eagerly waited for this day. It was a proud moment to board our newest 737 aircraft and fly it home,” said Alaska Airlines President Ben Minicucci. “This plane is a significant part of our future. We believe in it, we believe in Boeing and we believe in our employees who will spend the next five weeks in training to ensure we’re ready to safely fly our guests.”

The first MAX jet is scheduled to start flying on March 1, with daily round-trips between Seattle and San Diego, and Seattle and Los Angeles. The airline’s second 737 MAX 9 is expected to enter service in late March.

Teams from different divisions at Alaska will now follow a strict readiness schedule that sets out actions to be taken before the commencement of passenger flights. The process – including rigorous rounds of flight test, training, validation and specific preparation – will take five weeks.

Before entering service with passengers, the plane will be flying for more than 50 hours and about 19,000 miles to ensure its safety. All pilots will undergo additional training on the type, including a full-motion MAX simulator, the airlines say.

The carrier announced in December 2020 that it will receive a total of 68 MAX aircrafts over the next four years, with an option for another 52 aircrafts. In 2021 it will receive 13 MAX aircrafts, 30 in 2022, 13 in 2023, and 12 in 2024. The deal includes Alaska’s announcement last November that it will lease 13 MAX aircrafts from Air Lease.

These 68 jets will replace Alaska’s Airbus A320 fleet, and move the airline towards an all-Boeing fleet that will be more efficient, profitable and environmentally friendly.

On 18 November, the FAA allowed the Max to return to passenger service, following a 20-month grounding after two fatal crasher that killed 346 people. During the grounding, Boeing made significant improvements to the aircraft to make it safer.