Friday, February 20, 2015

Scott McMurren: Alaska's regional air carriers: a vital link

Many Anchorage travelers think nothing of going out to the airport and boarding a big jet, headed to Hawaii, Europe or to the Lower 48.

But for many Alaskans, a journey to those vacation spots starts on a much smaller plane and just a handful of fellow travelers. The runway may be a frozen lake or a gravel strip.

Alaska’s aviation matrix is made up of one big player (Alaska Airlines) and lots of smaller airlines. There are a few big hub cities (including Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau) and many smaller, regional hubs such as Bethel and Ketchikan. 

If you have the opportunity to travel throughout rural Alaska, you may have heard names like Ravn Alaska, Wings and Warbelow’s. But if you haven’t had the chance to explore Alaska’s vastness by air, here are some of the air transportation companies that many Alaskans rely on to go to work, get to the doctor or visit family and loved ones.

1. Ravn Alaska ( Ravn is a combination of several airlines including Era Aviation, Hageland Aviation and Frontier Flying Service. Together, Ravn serves more than 100 communities around the state, primarily in western and northwestern Alaska. From its primary hub in Anchorage, Ravn operates nonstop flights to Kenai, Homer, Cordova, Kodiak, Fairbanks, Unalakleet, Aniak and Bethel. From Fairbanks, Ravn flies nonstop to Galena, Fort Yukon, Barter Island (Kaktovik) and Deadhorse. From regional hubs in Bethel, St. Mary’s, Nome and Kotzebue, Ravn serves dozens of smaller communities.

Ravn’s fleet consists of de Havilland Dash-8s with 37 seats, Beechcraft 1900s with 19 seats, Piper Chieftains with eight seats, along with a collection of Cessna 207s and 208s. Ravn is a mileage partner with Alaska Airlines on some, but not all, of their routes. Additionally, Ravn has its own frequent flier plan called FlyAway Rewards.

2. Peninsula Airways or PenAir ( PenAir is celebrating its 60th year of operations. The airline was founded by Orin Seybert in 1955 in Pilot Point. Today, Seybert’s son Danny is the president. PenAir historically operated several different types of aircraft to many small communities in Southwest Alaska. Now, though, the airline only operates one type of aircraft, the Saab 340, which seats between 30 and 34 passengers. PenAir plans to take delivery this year of three Saab 2000 aircraft, which can seat 45 passengers and travel about 30 percent faster. From its hub in Anchorage, PenAir flies to St. Paul and St. George in the Pribilof Islands. The airline also offers service to Unalakleet, McGrath, Aniak, King Salmon, Dillingham, Sand Point, Cold Bay and Dutch Harbor. PenAir also flies to three destinations from a hub in Boston, Massachusetts: Plattsburgh, New York, Bar Harbor and Presque Isle, Maine. On its Alaska routes, PenAir is an Alaska Airlines mileage partner. 

3. Grant Aviation ( Grant Aviation flies many of the rural routes that PenAir used to operate, in addition to its Anchorage-Kenai commuter service. This includes service to communities including Port Heiden, Egegik, Pilot Point, Scammon Bay, Toksook, Hooper Bay, Atka, Nikolski, False Pass and a large collection of places I can barely spell, much less pronounce. Grant operates several types of aircraft, including Piper Navajos, Cessna 207s and 208s and Beechcraft KingAir 200s. Grant has hub operations in Anchorage, Bethel, Cold Bay, Dillingham, Dutch Harbor and Emmonak. 

4. Yute Air ( The first time I flew with Yute Air was more than 30 years ago. The pilot, Tommy Tucker, flew a beautiful amphibious Grumman Widgeon with the Yute logo on the tail. We traveled from Dillingham to Goodnews Lake, where he dropped us off on the beach. 

Yute has changed quite a bit since then. Now headquartered in Bethel, the carrier operates 11 Cessna 207s and a couple of Cessna 172s for travel between Bethel and more than 30 surrounding villages including Quinhagak, Napaskiak, Kethluk, Akiachak and Tuntutuliak. The carrier provides daily service to 23 of these villages. 

5. Bering Air ( Bering Air serves 32 destinations from its hubs in Nome, Kotzebue and Unalakleet. This includes service to Savoonga and Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. Bering Air operates the 19-passenger Beechcraft 1900, nine-passenger King Air, Cessna 208 Caravan, Piper Navajo, as well as cargo aircraft and two types of helicopters.  Because of its unique position next to Russia, Bering Air offers service to the Russian Far East. There are specific requirements and instructions for this type of travel on its website. Bering Air can fly to both Providenya and to Anadyr. The airline also offers on-demand charter service.

6. Warbelow’s Air Ventures ( Based in Fairbanks, Warbelow’s serves 13 villages year-round, including Fort Yukon, Anaktuvuk Pass, Tanana and Beaver. The carrier operates a fleet of 15 Piper Navajos. You won’t see them in the airport terminal at Fairbanks. They are located on the other side of the runway. 

7. Wings of Alaska ( Based in Juneau, Wings of Alaska operates Cessna 207s and 208s between Juneau and Gustavus, Skagway, Haines and Hoonah. Wings of Alaska also has a sister airline, Seaport Airlines, which operates flights from hubs in Portland, Burbank, Kansas City and Memphis.

8. Alaska Seaplanes ( Also based in Juneau, Alaska Seaplanes operates a fleet of  de Havilland DHC-2 “Beavers” on floats. The distinctive yellow-and-blue planes sit parallel the Juneau Airport’s runway at the float plane base. From there, they fly to several lesser-known destinations including Tenakee Springs, Pelican and Elfin Cove. The airline also offers service to Sitka, Kake, Angoon, Gustavus, Haines and Skagway using a collection of wheeled aircraft including Cessnas and Pipers. 

9. Taquan Air ( Based in Ketchikan, Taquan’s fleet is composed completely of de Havilland Beavers. From Ketchikan, Taquan flies its float planes to 18 communities including Coffman Cove, Craig, Hydaburg, Metlakatla and Hollis. Like most other Alaska Bush carriers, Taquan hauls a combination of mail, freight and passengers on both its scheduled routes and on charter flights as needed. Additionally, Taquan operates a popular flightseeing business in summertime with frequent flights to Misty Fjords National Monument. 

This is a brief list of just a few of the air carriers that make up the aviation services in Alaska. These operators, big and small, represent a vital piece of Alaska’s infrastructure. Learn more about the many other air carriers around the state at


No comments:

Post a Comment