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Alaska maps out airport expansion at West Coast bases

Alaska Airlines has plans in place for larger facilities at its four major bases along the US West Coast.

Los Angeles will gain a new security checkpoint and lounge, Portland a renovated and expanded regional concourse, San Francisco more gates, and Seattle Tacoma an expanded satellite in the coming years, said Alaska chief commercial officer Andrew Harrison during the airline's investor day 27 November.

"California's a huge success story thanks to Virgin America," he says. "We used to talk about where are our gates, how do we hang on to our gates – today we talk about our terminals."

Alaska has preferential use of 10 of the 14 gates in terminal 6 at Los Angeles International airport as a result of the 2016 merger. The carrier and operator Los Angeles World Airports are in the midst of finalising a long-term agreement for those gates - and potentially more - as well as build a new consolidated security checkpoint, says Harrison. He expects an agreement in the first quarter of 2019.

Gates and facilities at LAX, the second busiest airport in the USA after Atlanta, are among the most sought after by the country's airlines. American Airlines is investing $1.6 billion in expanding and updating terminals 4 and 5 at the airport, and Delta Air Lines $1.9 billion in a rebuild of terminals 2 and 3.

In San Francisco, Alaska hopes to take over all 14 gates in terminal 2 once American consolidates its operations in the under-construction terminal 1 in 2020, says Harrison. This would be a boost from the 10 gates it has currently in terminal 2 and the international terminal.

The plans for both Los Angeles and San Francisco would enable the carrier to continue to grow at the airports.

Alaska will benefit from the terminal rebalancing project at Portland International that is due for completion in 2020. The works will see Southwest Airlines, the second largest at the airport, move to concourse E on the north side of terminal and provide Alaska, the airport's largest, with more space on the south side of the facility.

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Port of Portland

As part of the works, Harrison says Alaska will benefit from a redevelopment of concourses A and B for its regional operations.

Seattle Tacoma International is the busiest in Alaska's system. The carrier operates nearly 300 departures a day from the airport, significantly more than the 129 from Portland, 115 from Los Angeles and 86 from San Francisco, an investor presentation shows.

The airline has a multi-prong approach to addressing congestion at its home airport. An expanded North Satellite with 20 contiguous gates for Alaska will open in 2021, and an expanded international arrivals facility will open in 2020.

In addition, Alaska plans to add 18 daily flights from Paine Field a 57km (35.7 miles) drive north of Seattle Tacoma airport in February 2019. These flights are the equivalent of a 6% increase in departures at Seattle Tacoma "without any of the congestion and huge convenience for our guests", says Harrison.

Alaska is bullish on having airport facilities to support its growth, even as it pared back 2019 capacity growth to just 2% during the investor day. A move called the "right answer for 2019 margins" by executives.

The airline is betting that, long term, the airport investments will pay off and secure its position in the West Coast's major markets.

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