Five questions with Brad Tilden, 2022 Tony Jannus Award recipient and former Alaska Air Group CEO
After 31 years with Alaska Airlines, Brad Tilden is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Tony Jannus Award. The honor is presented annually to an individual who has made major and lasting contributions to the commercial aviation industry.
Brad Tilden recently retired after serving as Chairman and CEO of Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air.
This week, Tilden shared his views on the future of aviation, the importance of Alaska Airlines transcontinental routes to Florida and his reaction on being named recipient of this year’s Tony Jannus Award.
QUESTION: After a major reset following the COVID-19 pandemic, what is the state of the commercial airline industry today and moving forward?
BRAD TILDEN: “I think the industry is in good shape with demand recovering nicely and I know that Alaska is well positioned for the future, having just placed an order for 52 Boeing 737 MAXs for delivery between 2025 and 2027, and also secured rights for 105 more planes through 2030. The order represents the largest order in our 90-year history. Alaska’s focus on low fares and a strong balance sheet really helped us weather the COVID storm, and we’re really looking forward to growing coming out of the pandemic .”
QUESTION: With the entire United States separating Florida from the Pacific Northwest, what was the significance of Alaska Airlines connecting Seattle with nonstop service to Tampa eight years ago, and do Alaska’s transcontinental routes to Florida remain critical today?
BRAD TILDEN: “Alaska has really had four big growth waves in the last 20 years, one of which was our growth from the West Coast to the East Coast - including Florida. Since 2018, we’ve grown our network to the East Coast by 10 percent. And the Florida market - including Tampa - has just been terrific for the company. On a peak winter day we have five flights into Tampa and our customers love being able to get here non-stop from the West Coast. More broadly in the past two years, we’ve joined the oneworld Alliance, becoming a full member of the world’s best airlines, giving our guests access to an expansive network across the world.”
QUESTION: What was your greatest contribution while at Alaska Airlines?
BRAD TILDEN: “That’s a really hard question because the airline business is the ultimate team sport, and it’s the team that puts the points on the board, not the coach. I am really proud that our people won 12 consecutive JD Power awards during my time as President and then CEO, and I’m also extraordinary proud of how their commitment to producing a great experience for our customers allowed us to grow so much. The company had 2,000 employees when I joined and 23,000 when I left, and it was so much fun to be on that ride with such terrific people.”
QUESTION: What was your biggest highlight in your time leading the airline?
BRAD TILDEN: “Another great question. One thing that I ultimately got used to is that our industry changes so much and one can never let your guard down. During my time in the industry, we dealt with 9/11, the huge growth of LCC’s and the bankruptcies of most of the legacy airlines, a significant accident (in the case of Alaska), the global financial crisis and a huge suppression in demand due to COVID. One of the things that we learned at Alaska through all of this is to be clear about our values, and to run our business in a way that we can survive all of these storms when they come, but also go out and grow when times are good.”
QUESTION: What does winning the Tony Jannus Award mean to you personally?
BRAD TILDEN: “This award is a tremendous honor. A brief look a the list of past recipients will tell anyone this. But in my heart, I know that it is the terrific people of Alaska and Horizon that caused this honor to come our way. It’s really an award for all of them.”
A big thanks to Brad Tilden for answering our questions ahead of next week’s Tony Jannus Awards scheduled for November 12 at The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club in downtown St. Petersburg. The ceremony celebrates the Tampa Bay area as the birthplace of commercial aviation. Tilden is scheduled to be an honored guest to accept the award.
For more information on the event or to purchase tickets, visit the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society website here.