With Ravn Alaska shutting their doors, the company has put a huge gap into our State. How do we (As Air carriers) support over 100 villages?
Travel within Alaska has almost come to a complete stop. With RavnAir, the state’s largest regional airline, stopped flying last week. With over 1,200 employees and more than 70 planes, the airline served more than 100 communities. It’s a big gap for the remaining air carriers to fill.
Lee Ryan, president of Ryan Air, also heads the state of Alaska’s Aviation Advisory Board. The board held an emergency meeting when Ravn stopped flying. The board, composed of aviation professionals and stakeholders from around the state, declared it “is confident that the immediate need for service can be met by the air carriers currently serving rural communities.”
That’s a tall order — and there are significant routes in the state where Ravn was the only passenger carrier. For now, though, the board claims the current carriers, including cargo-only carriers like Northern Air Cargo, Lynden and Ace Air Cargo can fill the need for mail, freight, health care and emergency services.
Ryan Air is primarily a cargo carrier with eight hubs around the state, including Unalakleet, Emmonak, St. Mary’s, Aniak and Bethel. But they also offer passenger service out of Aniak, using a Cessna 207 or 208. The two routes from Aniak serve five villages six days a week. Flight 910 leaves Aniak at noon for Holy Cross, Anvik, Grayling and Shageluk before returning to Aniak. Flight 920 leaves Aniak for Kalskag and Russian Mission at 9 a.m.
“Cargo is what we’re good at,” said Lee. “But 82% of our communities are off the road system. We’re not going to just sit on the sidelines. We will support our customers wisely and safely in new markets."
Wright Air Service in Fairbanks had planned to start flying north to Prudhoe Bay and over to Kaktovik in May. But when Ravn stopped flying the route on April 2, Wright started the next day. Further, the carrier sent two Cessna 208s to Barrow. Over the course of the next three days, Wright delivered more than 42,000 pounds of mail and freight from Barrow to Atqusuk, Wainwright, Point Lay and Point Hope. The Cessna 208s can quickly be configured for passenger service when people start flying again.
Wright Air Service and its sister airline Warbelow’s Air Ventures both competed with Ravn from Fairbanks to villages up and down the Yukon River, including Fort Yukon, Tanana and Galena, among others. Now, the airlines will have a bigger share of the mail and freight moving around the state.
Rob Kelley is the CEO of Grant Aviation, with 33 planes spread across the state and four more scheduled to be delivered. Usually, Grant operates a dozen daily flights between Anchorage and Kenai. Now, there are just five per day. “We’ve moved those aircraft to accommodate our increased schedules in Western Alaska,” he said.
“We’ve had conference calls with all the other air carriers, with the post office and with the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation,” he said. “The end result is that all the villages (around Bethel) will have coverage.”
Grant also has a plane in Dutch Harbor, which flies to several islands, including the Pribilofs, St. George and St. Paul.
Alaska Airlines recently announced plans to fly from Anchorage to Cold Bay in order to support the airline’s customers in Dutch Harbor. Grant’s plane may be part of the 150-mile shuttle from Cold Bay to Dutch Harbor. Alaska Airlines has not yet announced when the flights will start.
Dutch Harbor has been struggling with scheduled air service since Ravn’s accident last October, when a Saab 2000 operated by a subsidiary skidded off the runway killing one passenger.
Last week, Dutch Harbor resident Carlin Enlow flew from Anchorage on an Ace Air Cargo Beechcraft 1900, which was chartered by a local fishing company. She and her sweetheart, along with their new baby, had been scheduled to fly on a Ravn flight that was canceled. There currently are no scheduled flights from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor. On arrival, Carlin was met at the airport by the police, who provided them with instructions for their mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Last summer, organizers of the St. Paul Island Tour, a birding and wildlife adventure run by the local Native corporation, TDX, chartered Ace’s B1900 several times, because Ravn only offered three flights a week between Anchorage and St. Paul. That’s now down to zero. The island is well-served by cargo airlines (including Ace), but the goal of regularly scheduled service remains elusive.
In Southeast Alaska, scheduled flights by Alaska Airlines and by regional carriers have been reduced. But the mail and freight flights continue.
“There are no people flying,” said Lee Ryan. “But the state’s aviation network still is interconnected. Right now it’s time to get through this crisis together.”