Alaska Air (ALK) - Get Report wants to grow, securing its position as the premier West Coast airline. Wall Street generally prefers stock buybacks and higher dividends to growth.

The dichotomy was clear on Tuesday, during Alaska CEO Brad Tilden's appearance at a Wolfe Research investor conference, when Wolfe analyst Hunter Keay asked, "Why not pay a huge dividend?"

Tilden responded by asking, "Do you think that would be a good idea for us?"

Not surprisingly, Keay responded "yes."

Alaska pays a dividend of $1.20 annually. 

Following the dividend discussion, Chief Financial Officer Brandon Pedersen described Alaska as "a growth company," but noted it has a history of stock buybacks and dividends.

Pedersen said the carrier has "a bias toward first paying down the debt," but recalled that it has bought back about $1 billion worth of stock and also was the first airline in recent years to join Southwest in offering a dividend.

Between 2007 and 2015, Alaska spent more than $1 billion buying back about a third of its shares. In 2015, it announced a $1 billion buyback program. However, the program slowed after Alaska agreed in 2016 to buy Virgin America for $2.6 billion.

The acquisition, which brought along Virgin America's San Francisco hub, seems to have encouraged Alaska to further shore up its West Coast presence.  

Alaska plans current year available seat mile growth of 8.5%, about double the industry average. That implies second half growth of 11.5%, given first half growth of 5.5%, the carrier has said. "People don't love ASM growth," Tilden acknowledged on Tuesday.

"It's all about execution right now," he said. "We're not thinking big. We're thinking about how do we execute {with} what's on our plate."

He said Alaska's task should not be overcomplicated. "Our basic job is to get someone from Seattle to San Francisco for about $150," he said.

Meanwhile, Keay noted, not entirely approvingly, that regional growth at partner Horizon Air is in the 40% range.

Last week, Alaska said it will begin service in 2018 from Paine Field, north of Seattle and even farther north of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; it will offer nine daily departures to so-far-undisclosed destinations.

On Monday, Alaska began a seasonal daily non-stop flight between Portland, Ore; the flight will operate through Aug. 26.

Shortly after midday Tuesday, shares rose 0.9%. They have declined about 3% so far in 2017.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.