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Flying higher

Alaska Airlines had a record first quarter for 2016.

For the first three months of 2016, the airline, based in Seattle, reported a net income of $183 million, which is a 23 percent increase over the first quarter of 2015, according to a release from Alaska Airlines.

The 2015 first quarter results came in at $149 million.

In addition, passenger revenue increased 4 percent in 2016. The company also generated approximately $530 million of operating cash flow, the release said.

On April 4, the airline announced an agreement to acquire common stock of Virgin America for $2.6 billion in cash. The deal is expected to close by 2017, pending approval by Virgin America.

“We are proud to report record first quarter results,” said CEO Brad Tilden. “These results are due to the efforts of employees at Alaska and Horizon who share a common sense of mission and a focus on low fares, operational reliability and delivering a level of genuine and caring service that sets us apart. We see many of these same qualities in Virgin America, and we’re very excited about our proposed combination. We are looking forward to the integration process and are confident that our team has what it takes to build the premier airline for people living on the West Coast.”

Also, during the fourth quarter, Alaska Airlines placed an order for 30 Embraer E175s, which will start flying by Horizon Air in 2017, according to the release.

The airline also has the option to purchase an additional 33 E175s, according to the release.

Currently, Alaska Airlines operates 28 flights a week from the Lihue Airport.

Destinations from Lihue, via Alaska Airlines, are Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Jose and San Diego, said Daniel Chun, Hawaii regional manager of sales and community marketing for Alaska Airline.

Bob Porter, a pilot captain for Alaska Airlines, said the route to Kauai is his favorite.

“The routes are seniority based,” he said. “Some people like flying to D.C., but I try to fly to Kauai as much as I can.”

Porter flies passengers from the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle to Kauai twice a month.

Aside from a short runway and higher winds in the winter, the trip is a smooth ride, he said.

“The challenging thing for us is that it’s a shorter runway for commercial jet operations,” he said. “So you have to be precise and get in the landing zone.”

The runway at the Lihue Airport is about a mile, which is shorter than the runways the airports on Oahu and the Big Island, he said.

“Pilots like a lot of runway. The more, the better,” Porter said.

The view flying into Kauai never gets old, added Porter, who lives in Palm Springs, California.

“Making the approach into the airport, and seeing the mountains and Nawiliwili Harbor, it’s just as beautiful every time,” he said.

The flight to Kauai comes with at least a 24-hour layover, which gives crew members a chance to enjoy the island.

There are about 35 crew members on each flight, who stay in the Courtyard Kauai at Coconut Beach, Porter said.

“Most crew members have hiked the Sleeping Giant and rented a bike along the Kealia bike path,” he said.

But Porter said he uses the time on Kauai to relax and enjoy his surroundings.

“I usually rent a car, grab smoked chicken from Chicken in a Barrel, and have a picnic at Kealia Beach,” he said. “It’s a relaxing spot for me.”

When Porter flies into Kauai on Tuesday, he gets a 48-hour layover, which he says is rare.

“I want to drive the whole island,” he said. “I plan to drive north to Tunnels Beach one day, and drive south to Barking Sands the next.”

Of all the places he’s seen in his 40-year career as a pilot, both in the Air Force and in the commercial airline industry, Kauai holds a special place in Porter’s heart.

“I’ve flown around the world, and I’ve seen a lot of places, but Kauai is a favorite,” he said. “It’s one of the few that hasn’t been ruined by over-development. The island is just so friendly, and you know you’re going to have a good time.”

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