Southeast Alaska airline to relaunch passenger service on former Ravn routes

For the community of Unalaska, Alaska Seaplanes and FLOAT Shuttle both intend to operate aircraft capable of flying directly from Anchorage. (Photo by Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Alaska Seaplanes announced Tuesday it intends to relaunch passenger air service on routes formerly served by RavnAir Group, which declared bankruptcy earlier this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Juneau-based Alaska Seaplanes had previously put in an offer to buy the Part 121 federal operating certificates from Ravn-operated airlines PenAir and Corvus — which allow scheduled service to rural hubs in the Aleutian Islands, Bristol Bay and the Kenai Peninsula.

“We bid on some of the assets in the Ravn bankruptcy,” said Kent Craford, co-owner and president of Alaska Seaplanes. “We unfortunately lost it in a very bizarre auction for the Corvus and PenAir certificates that were attached to RavnAir Group.”

After Ravn — which was Alaska’s largest rural airline, with 72 planes, 1,300 employees and more than 100 destinations across the state — cancelled the auction process to sell off its assets earlier this month, Southern California-based FLOAT Shuttle struck a deal with the bankrupt airline to buy the PenAir and Corvus operating certificates and aircraft.

Craford said Alaska Seaplanes was disappointed by the auction process, but not deterred. The Southeast Alaska commuter air carrier still intends to serve the communities that were previously served by Ravn.

“But instead of taking over the old Ravn certificates, [we’ll] simply move operations out there under a different and new certificate,” he said.

Craford says the airline will partner with Wexford Capital, a Connecticut-based investment firm and long-standing participant in the regional airline industry that recently acquired a Florida-based airline out of bankruptcy.

“So we’re going to be adding aircraft to that certificate and serving Unalaska and other communities on the Alaska Peninsula that were previously served by Ravn,” he said.

For Unalaska and Dutch Harbor, Alaska Seaplanes intends to operate aircraft capable of flying directly from Anchorage, said Craford. The island has been without non-stop commercial service since a fatal plane crash last October, when one of Ravn’s Saab 2000 planes crashed while landing at Unalaska’s airport, killing one passenger and injuring more than a dozen others. Afterward, the company switched to using the smaller, slower DeHavilland Dash 8 aircraft, which require a refueling stop.

Since Ravn declared bankruptcy in April, Unalaskans have depended largely on chartered planes and twice-a-week commercial flights fulfilled by the regional airline, Grant Aviation, which flies between Unalaska and Cold Bay, and then a connecting Alaska Airlines flight from Cold Bay to Anchorage.

“PenAir really had set the bar with their Saab 2000 service,” said Craford. “And so right now, we’re looking at our aircraft options, but whatever we choose, it’s going to be an aircraft that can serve Unalaska directly from Anchorage without a stop in Cold Bay or anything like that.”

The airline intends to hire former Ravn and PenAir pilots who are experienced on Aleutian Chain routes, Craford added.

Alaska Seaplanes will be operating alongside FLOAT Shuttle, which also intends to restart scheduled service on all routes formerly served by Ravn — with the exception of Kodiak — in September, according to FLOAT Shuttle’s chief operating officer, Rob McKinney. That includes non-stop service between Anchorage and Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, he added.

McKinney previously led a Southeast Alaska airline, Wings, for six years.

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