During ‘fly-in’ season, group makes its message plane

This time of year, the Alaska Legislature receives plenty of guests on “fly-in” receptions. Groups like the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and the Bristol Bay Borough arrive by jet, stopping in Juneau for a few days to talk with Legislators about the issues that matter to them most.

Last week, one group arrived with the name of their organization emblazoned on the side of a jet.

For Alaska Airlines, one of the biggest issues is the state’s planned hike in fuel taxes, something that would significantly affect the company’s operations in Alaska, said Joseph Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of communications and external affairs.

“We are very concerned with (House Bill 249),” he told members of the Alaska House Transportation committee, which is considering the measure.

That bill would raise the state’s tax on jet fuel from 3.2 cents per gallon to 10 cents per gallon. The tax on aviation gas would rise from 4.7 cents per gallon to 10 cents per gallon. Also within HB 249 are increases to the state’s gasoline taxes, but those are rising to a lesser degree than the taxes on aviation.

Combined, the tax increases will raise about $49 million per year to help close the state’s annual deficit, which is between $3.5 billion and $4 billion per year.

The aviation tax increase is at least partially the work of the state’s aviation advisory board, which favors a larger tax increase in place of a smaller increase and a rise in the landing fees charged at some state airports.

Alaska Airlines and the state’s larger airlines — Delta and UPS each sent letters of opposition — disagree with that strategy.

“Beyond the exceedingly high increase,” Sprague told the committee, “our calculations suggest Alaska Airlines alone would pay 30 percent.”

“Whether you would take action on fuel tax or not — and again, our hope is that you won’t … our view is that action is going to have to be taken across the various levers that are available to the Legislature,” he said.

Meeting with the Empire editorial board, Sprague said it’s “hard for us to say no, don’t do it” even as it advocates a prompt solution to the state’s budget problems.

“We’re looking at ways we can bring our costs down … so we can bring our fares down,” Sprague said. “A fuel tax that would be pretty targeted at aviation … it puts us in sort of an awkward position.”

Sprague said the company is “open to looking at different solutions” and is considering joining one or more of the business and nonprofit coalitions pushing the Legislature for action this year.

Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines’ regional vice president for the 49th state, said, “We feel like this may be the time that Alaska Airlines should step up as a leader in the state and encourage whatever (fix) that may be.”

The fly-in wasn’t completely devoted to the gas tax issue. Speaking to the Empire, Sprague and others said the company is planning a series of changes in the coming years that will be visible to travelers.

Last week, Alaska Airlines unveiled a new branding scheme and simplified logo that will be installed in Juneau’s airport this year. Larger projects are also coming in the next few years. The airline operates 11 terminals at airports across the state — Barrow, Wrangell, Yakutat and Kodiak are examples — and it will be spending tens of millions to upgrade those terminals in the near term.

In Anchorage, the airline expects to build a new maintenance hangar. The company is also phasing out its “combi” aircraft — the half-freighter, half-passenger Boeing 737s used on rural routes in Alaska. Those will be replaced by full-freighter 737s new off the Boeing assembly line, Sprague said.

And in response to the perennial question about whether Alaska will be bought out by a larger airline, Sprague had a simple answer: “No. Alaska likes its place as an independent, Seattle-based airline, and that’s the way we want to stay.”

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 8

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, April 12, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, April 11, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The sky and mountains are reflected in the water on April 5, 2012, at the Kootznoowoo Wilderness in the Tongass National Forest’s Admiralty Island National Monument. Conservation organizations bought some private land and transferred it to the U.S. Forest Service, resulting in an incremental expansion of the Kootznoowoo Wilderness and protection of habitat important to salmon and wildlife. (Photo by Don MacDougall/U.S. Forest Service)
Conservation groups’ purchase preserves additional land in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

A designated wilderness area in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest… Continue reading

A welcome sign is shown Sept. 22, 2021, in Tok. President Joe Biden won Alaska’s nominating contest on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Biden wins more delegates in Alaska and Wyoming as he heads toward Democratic nomination

President Joe Biden nudged further ahead in the Democratic nomination for reelection… Continue reading

Juneau Assembly members and other visitors examine a meeting room formerly used by the nine-member Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development on Monday, April 8, which is about 25% larger than the Assembly Chambers at City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Of three possible new City Hall buildings, one stands out — but plenty of proposed uses for other two

Michael J. Burns Building eyed as city HQ; childcare, animal shelter among options at school sites.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, speaks to members of the Senate majority caucus’ leadership group on Friday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Schools, university and projects across Alaska are set to receive money from new budget bill

Alaska Senate sends draft capital budget to House as work continues on a state spending plan

The Boney Courthouse in downtown Anchorage, across the street from the larger Nesbett Courthouse, holds the Alaska Supreme Court chambers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska judge strikes down state’s cash payments to families using correspondence school programs

Decision will become a ‘hot-button legislative item’ in final weeks of session, lawmakers say.

A statue of William Henry Seward stands outside the Dimond Courthouse in downtown Juneau. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Juneau man convicted of sexual abuse of 15-year-old girl more than four years after incidents occur

JPD: Randy James Willard, 39, sent explicit videos to and engaged in sexual contact with victim.

Most Read