ANALYSIS: Portland leads Alaska Air capacity growth

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Alaska Airlines grew the most at Portland International airport during the past year.

Seats on the Seattle-based carrier rose by 39,194, or 13.67%, at the Oregon airport in April compared to the same month in 2013, Innovata FlightMaps Analytics data shows. New nonstop flights were added to Atlanta (discontinued 1 September), Bellingham, Dallas/Fort Worth, Reno, Santa Barbara and Tucson during the period.

Alaska routes from Portland, April 2014 (red denotes routes added since April 2013)

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Alaska has shifted some connecting capacity to Portland from its hub at Seattle Tacoma International airport to free up seats for origin and destination (O&D) passengers at the latter, said Andrew Harrison, vice-president of planning and revenue management at the airline, in November 2013.

Existing routes from Portland grew as well. The Portland-Kona route saw the biggest change with a 356% increase in seats in April compared to April 2013, according to Innovata. Lihue saw a 305% increase in seats, Anchorage 52%, Los Angeles 33.1% and Redmond 30.2% during the period.

“[Portland] was a grass roots effort from my network team,” says Harrison. “We’ve seen some great results from that.”

Seattle Tacoma, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas round out the five cities that saw the greatest increase in the absolute number of seats on Alaska during the period.

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Alaska continues to focus on adding new mid- and trans-con flights from Seattle Tacoma. New nonstops were added to Colorado Springs, Omaha and Sun Valley, Idaho, in April compared to a year earlier, Innovata shows, while new service is planned to Albuquerque (from 18 September), Baltimore (2 September), Cancun (6 November), Detroit (4 September), New Orleans (12 June) and Tampa (20 June) later in 2014.

The focus on nonstop flights catering to O&D traffic comes as Delta Air Lines is building a hub at Seattle Tacoma for both local traffic and international connecting passengers. The Atlanta-based carrier plans 79 peak day flights in the third quarter increasing to 110 flights in 2015 and 150 plus flights from 2017.

Alaska added new nonstop service from Los Angeles to Sun Valley but discontinued service to La Paz, Mexico, and San Jose, California, in April versus the same month in 2013, Innovata shows. However, seat capacity grew on almost every route out of the Southern California airport with the exception of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Loreto in Mexico.

San Francisco saw a significant increase – 31.4% - in the number of seats to Seattle Tacoma as Alaska responded to increased competition from Delta, United Airlines and Virgin America in April versus April 2013, according to Innovata. The number of seats decreased slightly to Portland and San Jose del Cabo.

Alaska added a new nonstop flight from Las Vegas to Anchorage and seat capacity increased on all of its other routes from the airport in April compared to 2013, Innovata shows.

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San Jose International saw the greatest absolute decrease in the number of seats as Alaska cut both nonstop flights to Los Angeles (discontinued 5 April) and Palm Springs between April 2013 to this April, according to Innovata. Seat capacity also decreased on routes to Guadalajara, Honolulu, Kona, Lihue and San Jose del Cabo.

Despite these decreases, Alaska chief executive Brad Tilden named San Jose, along with Salt Lake City and San Diego, as a city where the carrier sees potential growth opportunities, in March.

Honolulu saw a decrease in seat capacity on Alaska in five of the seven markets – including Oakland and San Jose – that the airline serves from the airport in April compared to a year earlier, according to Innovata. Only Anchorage and Portland saw slight increases of 1.32% each in the number of seats.

Seat capacity in Oakland decreased on routes to Honolulu, Kona, Lihue and Portland, and increased on routes to Kahului (Maui) and Seattle Tacoma from April 2013 to this April, Innovata shows.

Alaska adjusted the number of seats between Hawaii and the California in 2013 due to a “surplus of capacity”, as Tilden described it in October 2013.

“We made scheduled adjustments which were effective in late April and unit revenues in this region responded nicely, especially in the Bay Area,” he said at the time.

Fairbanks saw a 13.8% decrease in the number of available seats to Anchorage on Alaska in April compared to a year earlier, according to Innovata. This follows a shift by the airline to 76-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft from larger Boeing 737s for the majority of its flights on the route on 3 March.

The move is seen as a way to both improve yields and free up 737s for new routes, for example the nonstop flights from Anchorage to both Las Vegas and Phoenix that Alaska added in 2013.

Seat capacity was down across the board to Kotzebue, Alaska, with a 21.1% decrease to Anchorage and a 52% decrease to Nome, according to Innovata. The carrier cut one of its three daily flights to the remote city in August 2013.