Alaska Air Group's profit nearly triples

Amid skyrocketing profits and a major rebranding project, Alaska Airlines announced Tuesday it may replace jets with smaller turboprop planes on some of its less-trafficked routes in Alaska.

The Seattle-based airline said it is considering using some of Horizon Air's Q400 turboprop planes in Alaska. The 76-passenger planes cost less to operate than Alaska's Boeing 737 jets. Turboprops are used in Alaska by some of the state's smaller airlines, such as Era Aviation.

Alaska Air Group, which operates both Alaska Airlines and Horizon, said Tuesday it is retiring the Horizon name and will fly all of Horizon's turboprops under Alaska Air's livery. The company said it has no details yet on where it is considering using the turboprops in Alaska and how many planes could be involved.

"There are many things that will be considered," said Bobbie Egan, spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines. For example, she said, the company has to make sure the planes have the technical ability to get into different Alaska cities.

"If we decide to move forward, it wouldn't happen before the end of the year," she said.

Some of the key differences between Alaska Airlines' 737-400 jets, manufactured by Boeing Co., and the turboprop Q400, manufactured by Bombardier Inc., include:

• Passenger capacity -- The jets can carry 152 passengers; turboprops, 76.

• Range -- Jets can fly 2,370 miles; turboprops 1,567.

• Typical cruise speed -- Jets can fly 502 miles per hour; turboprops 414.

Alaska Airlines could save money in Alaska by using turboprops, and it might be able to fly to rural airports inaccessible to jets because a runway isn't long enough or strong enough, said Adam White, president of the Alaska Airman's Association.

The turboprops "come in at a slower speed and stop in a shorter distance," said White, of Nenana.

Alaska Airlines flies roughly 100 million pounds of cargo to, from and within the state each year on its jets.

"We are committed to providing that same lift with Alaska jets," said Egan, the airline's spokeswoman. "The bottom line here is that while we are weighing the merits of using Q400s on some routes in Alaska, we are committed to supporting the communities we serve with the same cargo lift."

Horizon, founded in 1981, was purchased by Alaska in 1986.

Under their new business arrangement, Alaska Airlines will assume all marketing, scheduling and promotion of Horizon's routes throughout the West, Mexico and Canada.

With profits rising, Alaska Airlines also announced Tuesday that it is purchasing an additional 15 Boeing 737 jets.

The parent company said Tuesday that its fourth-quarter profit totaled $64.8 million compared with $24.1 million a year earlier as air traffic improved and it added routes.

Revenue rose 13.3 percent to $959 million from $846 million a year ago.

For all of 2010, the company earned $251 million, compared with 2009 profits of $127 million.

Daily News staff and wires