Airlines work to fill gaps in Alaska flight service after RavnAir shutters

A Ravn Alaska Beechcraft airplane in Nome, March 21, 2016. (Creative Commons photo by Quintin Soloviev)

As all RavnAir Group operations grind to a halt, other air carriers around the state say they are looking at ways they can step in.

Alaska Airlines sent a statement Monday that promised, among other things, to maintain service to the 19 communities it currently serves; to start normal seasonal summer service to King Salmon and Dillingham earlier; and finally, despite a hiring freeze due to uncertainty in the industry surrounding COVID-19, to hold a job fair for Ravn employees.

Alaska Airlines does not have any planes in its fleet equipped to land at Unalaska’s Tom Madsen Airport. But spokesperson Tim Thompson said the Seattle-based airline is “looking to ramp up operations in Cold Bay at some point, and other carriers can provide flights between the airports.”

That flight will operate between Anchorage and Cold Bay. While Alaska Airlines does not have a specific start date for the route, they “are working quickly,” said Thompson.

RavnAir was the sole airline provider to two Essential Air Service, or EAS, communities: McGrath and Saint Paul. The federal Department of Transportation subsidizes air carriers under the EAS program.

“From my understanding, they should still be flying (the EAS) routes,” said Phillip Zavadil, city manager of Saint Paul.

Zavadil said he reached out to DOT and is waiting to hear back on whether the remote island will regain air service.

It is unclear how the DOT and Ravn will proceed. Though, in an unsigned agency statement, the department has confirmed that it is “working through the effects of Ravn’s public announcement.”

State leaders reacted to the news saying there was hope that other carriers would step in as quickly as possible.

“As everyone in the community knows so painfully well, the issues with Ravn have been around some time now,” said Bryce Edgmon, an independent state representative from Dillingham and speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives. “There’s a lot of concern and a lot of effort in the aviation industry in terms of coming in and picking up the slack.”

Unalaska was once a designated EAS community, though it last participated in the program in the late 1990s. After a fatal plane crash left the city without air service last year, the city began looking into joining the program again.

Despite losing its only commercial airline provider, the city still retains mail and cargo service through ACE Air Cargo.

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