UNALASKA – A local air carrier is making air travel in southwest Alaska safer and more reliable. PenAir invested $27 million into a new fleet of Saab 2000 planes.
“It’s definitely, definitely a leap forward in technology,” said pilot and PenAir part owner Lloyd Seybert. “It flies like a real airplane should fly.”
Seybert says the new planes are safer, faster, carry more passengers and can handle the challenging weather conditions common in the Aleutian chain.
“It allows us to take a full load, from Anchorage non-stop to Dutch Harbor, above the weather and in comfort and speed,” he said.
That’s good news for the fishing community in the heart of the Aleutians, where air transportation is vital.
“We’ve had 40,000 people a year get on a plane and 40,000 people a year get off a plane, so that’s 80,000 people moving back and forth in a community of 5,000 people,” said Unalaska mayor Shirley Quardt.
She says in bad weather, only 65 to 70 percent of the scheduled flights actually made it, due to the limitations with the old planes PenAir was flying.
The new Saab 2000 planes don’t just mean a shorter flight to Anchorage. It means people living in southeast Alaska and the Aleutians can conduct business, go to the doctor or just get out of town on a more reliable schedule.
“For a community, it’s a real confidence booster as well, particularly when you’re trying to encourage people to move here and stay here full-time and bring their kids,” said Quardt.
PenAir’s $27 million investment in a new fleet comes at a financially challenging time for the state of Alaska, but CEO Danny Seybert says it was the right time for the company.
“I really believe strongly in our region,” he said. “I believe that we’re not going to have as much of an economic hardship as some of the other areas of the state and I believe in investing $27 million into our region because the return is going to be there.”
PenAir held its inaugural passenger flight with the Saab 2000 on Friday. The planes will continue regular service to Dutch Harbor and other Southwest communities.
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