Alaska Airlines and the 2020
Great Land Investment Plan
upgrade shows long-
By Sam Friedman
Alaska Airlines operates a side business not common among big commercial carriers: the company owns eleven
In the rest of the United States, and in
Alaska’s bigger cities, airlines are tenants
that lease gate space at airports. But like in
so many other ways, rural Alaska is different.
Airlines, including Alaska Airlines, needed
to build their own facilities if they wanted to
serve smaller communities.
“It’s unheard of for a commercial carrier
to own and maintain its own facilities,” says
Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airline’s regional
vice president for the state of Alaska.
But the arrangement works for the geog-
raphy of the 49th State. In Alaska, 82 per-
cent of communities aren’t connected to
the road system, so air service is much more
important. Bush towns with populations of
less than 5,000 people—like Kotzebue and
Utqiaġvik—are regional hubs that receive
regular service from Boeing 737 jet airplanes.
It’s a world away from Alaska Airlines’
growing Lower 48 and international businesses, but the company plans to stay in the
terminal business in Alaska. Over the next
three years Alaska Airlines has committed
$30 million in renovating and expanding its
Product of Necessity
Alaska’s eleven terminals were built at state-owned airports in Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue,
Kodiak, Utqiaġvik, Deadhorse, Cordova, Yakutat, Gustavus, Petersburg, and Wrangell.
They’re modest facilities compared to the shop-ping-mall type of amenities found in big city
terminals. The Alaska Airlines rural terminals
provide bathrooms and a warm place out of the
weather to wait for flights. None of the terminals have jetways, and only Kodiak operates a
conveyor belt system to deliver luggage.
But while they are simple, the Alaska Airlines remote terminals are much more comfortable than the minimal infrastructure at
the smallest Alaska communities, where the
airport often consists of a gravel runway and
where the nearest warm building for passengers may be in town, a few miles from the
Alaska Airlines entered the airport terminal business through necessity as it expanded
to rural hub communities, Romano says.
“If we were going to provide jet service
into these communities around the state, we
needed facilities for our employees and our
passengers,” she says.
Among the current Alaska Airlines terminals, the oldest is Cordova, which opened
in 1976, Romano says. The newest is Bethel,
built in the early 2000s.
Nearly all Alaska airports lack publicly-owned terminals; the few exceptions include
state-run airports in Anchorage and Fairbanks and municipal airport terminals in
Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Unalaska.
Airlines and other tenants rent space at
state airports with the length of the lease tied
to the amount of money the tenant invests in
the property. The maximum term for these
leases is fifty-five years, although they can be
In Western Alaska, Alaska Airlines code-share partner PenAir expanded its rural airport terminals and now owns four. PenAir
already owned terminals in Cold Bay and
King Salmon when company CEO Danny
Seybert took over the family business from
his father fifteen years ago. He’s since added
to the company’s terminal inventory, buying terminals in Dillingham and Sand Point,
and replaced an old terminal in King Salmon
with a larger, 10,000-square-foot building
that has a small baggage carousel.
PenAir designed their Sand Point terminal building in Washington State and had it barged to Sand Point.