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Alaska Airlines to revamp its rural Alaska airport terminals

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published March 12, 2016

Alaska Airlines is about to spruce up and in some cases overhaul the 11 airport terminal facilities it owns across rural Alaska.

The Seattle-based company will put at least $30 million into a three- to five-year project starting this year which will majorly remodel a few of its terminals -- in Kotzebue, Kodiak and Barrow -- and give more minor facelifts to the others.

A need to expand some of the terminals came from a growing Transportation Security Administration presence at the airports, said Joe Sprague, senior vice president of communications at Alaska Airlines.

"In the years since 9/11 … there's just more space taken up by screening equipment than there used to be" said Sprague. "We need to make changes at some locations to better accommodate TSA, and for customers."

In many small rural airport terminals, people already don't have much space to regroup after going through security, he said. At some airports, passengers go directly from screening through a door to board the flight.

To fix that, the company is going to build larger waiting areas beyond security at some locations, with Barrow, Kotzebue and Kodiak "getting a more significant remodel to the layout," Sprague said.

"(There will be) a place to wait, put their belongings back together after screening, and depending on where boarding process is, get through security and get that done even if it hasn't started to board," he said.

The company doesn't yet have details about every terminal involved in the project, which is still in the planning stage.

Some remodels, such as at the Barrow terminal, will also improve the flow between arriving and departing passengers, which currently creates a "mishmash" of people, he said.

All of the airports will get at least subtle cosmetic changes, like signage and ticket counter backdrops replaced to reflect Alaska Airlines' recent updates to its brand, and new paint jobs.

Modest changes at some of the airports will start this year in Cordova and Yakutat, and the remodels of Kodiak and Kotzebue are set to begin in 2017. Work on the Barrow airport will start "over the next couple years," Sprague said.

The project is part of a broader three-part investment Alaska Airlines is making in the state. The company is spending $50 million on construction of a new hangar in Anchorage and replacing its five combination passenger-cargo (or "combi") planes with three all-freighter aircraft, which are in the process of being converted from passenger aircraft.

"We really view those internally … as one sort of overall effort to really re-invest in the state of Alaska," Sprague said. "The whole thing is probably reaching $100 million. At a time when the oil and gas companies are reducing their footprints in the state of Alaska, we want folks to know we're very committed to the state."

Marilyn Romano, the company's regional vice president for Alaska, said Alaska Airlines also wanted to make the changes because of how crucial air transportation is in many of the state's far-flung communities.

"A lot of these airports are gathering areas," she said. "They wait and spend time in our terminals, so it's really important to us to make sure that we have a place that's welcoming."

While revamping the remote terminals is estimated to cost at least $30 million, in reality it will likely end up costing quite a bit more, Sprague said.

One thing that will make some of the construction efforts difficult is the fact that, of these 11 airports, only one is accessible by road -- that's Deadhorse. That makes shipping construction materials difficult and expensive. In some of the colder locations, construction will only happen during the summer.

Alaska Airlines recently had one of its best financial years ever, netting $848 million in 2015.

The company owns and operates airport terminal facilities in Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue, Kodiak, Barrow, Deadhorse, Cordova, Yakutat, Gustavus, Petersburg and Wrangell.