Alaska Airlines’ purchase of Virgin America in December 2016 set off a series of critical operational changes to support a merger that would produce the fifth largest airline in the country. Alaska advertised completion of the merger in early 2019, but was internally planning to create a single airline by the first quarter of 2018. Alaska’s revised plan was to move several training programs and offices out of the existing Flight Training Center to allow expansion of the Inflight Program and Operations Center. In June 2017, under a GCCM contract, Alaska approached Buffalo Design, who joined an integrated team comprising the client, a project manager, a general contractor, and trade partners to meet this expedited internal deadline.
Construction documentation, permitting and construction for the 24,000 square foot Inflight Training Center was divided into three phases to allow for the work to proceed expeditiously, starting with a new 3,600 square foot classroom for 90 students completed in under four months. The completed Training Center includes two 90-student classrooms, two 30-student classrooms, two drill classrooms, instructor offices, and a large mockup bay with space for two airplane fuselages and multiple training modules. In addition to development of the Inflight facility, Buffalo Design developed six classrooms for Customer Service Training and Engineering classes within two other Alaska facilities on the same fast-track basis. The final phase of construction on a new entry, canopy, and plaza was completed in June.
One of Alaska’s goals for this facility was to emphasize the quality of the program and generate a welcoming environment for former Virgin America employees. We blended the human experience with the company brand to inspire students in both formal classroom settings and informal breakout spaces. The design of the Inflight Training Center mimics Alaska’s customer approach by promoting a fresh, modern experience with technological amenities, updated interiors with a west coast vibe, expressive lighting, and comfortable seating. Our team also felt that it was important to connect to the airline’s rich history of community and resiliency, and achieved this by incorporating patterns and textures reminiscent of cozy knits and Native American design along with historical artifacts.
Alaska Airlines also prioritized keeping employees engaged in their training during days full of lecture. Active learning in this program may take on several different forms throughout the day and require the learning environments to have a high degree of adaptability. Training tables and chairs are on wheels for ease of configuration. Classrooms feature multiscreen displays and sound systems. Acoustical treatment with applied branding and blue glass writing boards create appropriate backdrops for video teleconferencing. During lectures, students may sit, stand at a counter, or perch on a tall seat to create the most comfortable and effective personal learning experience.
As our team worked through the components of the budget, we established lighting as a key value. The quality, color, intensity, and control of lighting was essential throughout all spaces. With students in class for up to eight hours a day, and without natural light in several classrooms, it was important to incorporate the ability to change the level and color of light throughout the day. The designers, electrical trade partner and suppliers spent many hours working together on lighting options that would fit within our target budget and meet the tight schedule. After reviewing, specifying, and pricing many options with unfavorable lead times, the team decided to hang temporary lighting rather than permanently compromise on cost and quality. Pre-set light scenes allow instructors to easily change the levels from multiple locations around the room. Coffee bars are an amenity both in classrooms and in lounges, and are highlighted by subtle changes in color throughout the day. Entrances to classrooms are also highlighted by color changing light to signify the type of class and amount of time left in the session. In breakout lounges, the lighting mimics a residential feel to create a contrast between classrooms and relaxing social space.
Alaska Airlines had numerous goals to redesign their Inflight Training Center, all intended to be completed in a fast-approaching deadline. Our team worked with the company to reinvigorate their existing space and prepare it for an unprecedented number of employees. With a few temporary compromises in the design, we delivered an adaptable, functional design in tune with the needs of Alaska’s instructors and employees.
Alaska Airlines photography ©Francis Zera / zeraphoto.com