Alaska Airlines not forgetting presence back home

Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011

ANCHORAGE — Despite its constantly growing presence in the rest of the nation and its rip-roaring success amid an industry full of uncertainty and consolidation, Alaska Airlines continues to be dedicated to the state it is named for, said a company executive at a recent breakfast event in Anchorage.

The airline’s parent company Alaska Air Group, which is headquartered in Seattle and offers flights to more than 90 cities in Alaska and the Lower 48 as well as Canada and Mexico, reported $251.1 million in net income last year.

That’s nearly double the $121.6 million reported in 2009.

“You know that five, six, seven years ago, we were running anything but a good operation,” said Joseph Sprague, the airline’s vice president of marketing, in a presentation Feb. 17 before the Resource Development Council. “We recognized that we had to change, we had to do better with respect to running a reliable, on-time operation, and we’ve done that.”

Starting in 2006 and into 2007, the company made a number of “big structural changes,” Sprague said.

This resulted in improved on-time performance, Sprague said. In 2008, some 78 percent of its flights arrived at their destinations on time, Sprague said.

Just two years later, that figure improved by 9 percent. In February, the carrier announced that flight tracking and airport information service FlightStats awarded Alaska Airlines recognition for having the best arrival performance among major North American airlines.

Another honor Sprague touted was its ranking as the top-performing airline in the world by Aviation Week magazine.

The airline has been expanding its fleet, as well as increasing the number of routes it services. Included in recent aircraft orders were 15 new Boeing 737 aircraft, including 13 737-900ER craft, to be delivered 2012 through 2014.

The 737-900ER aircraft is the largest 737 model, he said. The ER stands for “extended-range,” he said, meaning those planes, in addition to having higher seating capacity, will also allow for more flights to Hawaii and the east coast.

The airline also recently announced that it was consolidating its brand name with that of sister company Horizon Air. Parent company Alaska Air Group has said that Alaska Airlines will take responsibility for marketing, scheduling and promotion of Horizon’s routes.

Horizon was founded in 1981 and bought by Alaska Air Group in 1986.

“Horizon Air will continue to be a separate operating company, although still part of Alaska Air Group,” he said. “It’s a little easier to build one brand as opposed to trying to build up two brands.”

The carrier is considering operating Horizon’s Q400 turboprop aircraft in certain Alaska communities, which are less costly to operate than 737 jets. Sprague said the move would allow the carrier to decrease airfare in the state.

But despite all of these changes and the company’s swelling bottom line, the carrier’s national recognition hasn’t caused it to forget its home, Sprague said. The company traces its lineage back to the early 1930s in Alaska.

“We recognize that we’re the only way in or out to a lot of the communities that we serve here in the state, and so we do have some traveler benefits that we offer uniquely to people on those routes,” he said.

Sprague said the carrier operates a “Native Employee Network,” which allows employees of Alaska Native descent to educate others in the company about their cultural heritage.

And he stressed that as the airline grows, it’s worth noting that the emblem on the tail of the craft is uniquely evocative of Alaska’s native communities.

“We have somebody really special on the tail of every one of our 117 jets, and that is an Eskimo that is very representative of the native communities here in the state of Alaska,” he said.

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