Last-minute deal will keep some Ravn planes and service in Alaska

A RavnAir plane sits on the tarmac at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. (Courtesy RavnAir)
A RavnAir plane sits on the tarmac at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. (Courtesy RavnAir)

A last-minute deal has emerged to keep RavnAir Group’s core assets in Alaska.

After a failed bankruptcy auction Wednesday, Ravn’s big planes appeared on track to be flown to California and sold off in a liquidation process, to the disappointment of Alaskans who depended on Ravn’s regional service.

Ravn attorney Jane Kim described what happened next at a hearing Thursday morning.

“However, after the auction was concluded, we received two new bids, which is the reason for all of the last-minute scrambling,” she said.

At least one group of Alaskans, which included transportation executive Jim Jansen and former Ravn executive Bob Hajdukovich, was vying for Ravn’s planes.

In the end, Ravn agreed to sell six of its big Dash-8s, plus the operating certificates for Corvus and PenAir, to a Southern California company called Float Shuttle.

Float Shuttle stands for “Float Over All Traffic,” and its current business is carrying California commuters who want to avoid being stuck in their cars. Which is a pretty different universe from the rugged and foul-weather flying that Alaska operators are often forced to do.

“I think they’re in for a pretty rude awakening, flying a float service out of Southern California and coming into Alaska,” said Dennis Robinson, vice mayor of Unalaska, the Aleutian Island fishing port that’s famous for its rough weather and flight cancelations. Since Ravn declared bankruptcy and shut down, residents and fishermen there have had to depend largely on chartered planes, loosely coordinated through a Facebook group.

“My question would be: Do they know what they’re up against?” he said. “Because I don’t believe they do.”

Robinson’s reaction, upon hearing about Float Shuttle’s winning bid, was similar to other Alaskans who live in the rural hub communities that Ravn used to serve.

One thing that Robinson says would put him more at ease is if Ravn’s new owners have experience in the Aleutians and in Alaska. And it turns out that they do, to an extent.

Rob McKinney, who’s going to be Ravn’s new chief executive, spent six years running a Southeast Alaska airline called Wings. A second Float executive also spent five years in Alaska working for Ravn, McKinney says.

“So, we think that not only do we bring a depth of aviation knowledge — we feel confident that we’re Alaska-specific, as well,” said McKinney.

The new Ravn is keeping its name for now, and it intends to use a $32 million COVID-19 payroll grant that’s been provisionally made available by the Trump administration.

Float Shuttle only bought six of Ravn’s nine planes that were up for sale. But they plan to lease three more to get the fleet back up to full size, and will be keeping all the planes in Alaska, McKinney says.

“We are 100% focused on Alaska and serving Alaskans,” he said.

The major investor for the new Ravn is what’s called an incubator — a company that helps startups get off the ground. This particular incubator is called HMC-INQ — its companies have to have at least one owner who’s a graduate of Harvey Mudd College, a California liberal arts college that focuses on engineering, science and math.

In this case, that’s Tom Hsieh, one of Float Shuttle’s co-founders. He says the incubator will be much more hands-off and community-minded than the private equity companies that owned the old Ravn, who rural residents often criticized for being unresponsive.

“We were actually really aware of that frustration. And that is certainly something that our team is dead set on rectifying and changing,” Hsieh said. “We want to be the hometown airline.”

The sale to Float Shuttle has been cleared by federal bankruptcy court, the company says, and the new owners aim to have federal approval to resume flying in about a month.

Ravn, which had 72 planes and 1,300 employees, served more than 100 communities before its bankruptcy and was Alaska’s largest rural air service. Dozens of its smaller planes were sold at an auction Tuesday.

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