Sunday, December 25, 2016

Rural Alaska airlines to pay for after-hours landings

FAIRBANKS — Starting next year, airlines landing their planes after hours at rural Alaska airports could find themselves footing the bill for overtime pay.

The state Department of Transportation is working with airlines on the pending change caused by budget cuts, Deputy Commissioner John Binder said Thursday.

“With the budget cuts, we’ve had our overtime budget essentially zeroed out,” he said.

Binder said the change is driven largely because the Department of Transportation’s state general fund budget has been cut by some 22 percent during the past two years, and overtime at state-owned rural airports is one of the many cuts.

He said every state-owned airport outside Fairbanks International Airport and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport will be affected by the changes.

For the most part, Binder said, the Department of Transportation is working with airlines to adjust each airport’s operating hours or rework flight schedules to avoid overtime.

“The first part of this is working with the different air carriers to verify and confirm what their daily flight schedules are so we can make sure our normal operating hours that we are covered for match up with their schedule as much as possible,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that with almost all of our airports. But there are a few where the airlines have flights outside of those scheduled hours.”

In cases where the airlines can’t work out a schedule within the budgeted hours, he said the department is working on what a fair fee structure would be. He said it will depend on what kind of planes are landing, the locations and the schedules. He said larger aircraft, for example, require greater safety measures and more carefully maintained runways than smaller aircraft.

Wright Air Service Director of Operations Ken Michaelis said it won’t affect that airline’s operations.

“We put everything to bed by 6 o’clock here,” he said.

The change is unlikely to affect most flights to rural Interior Alaska, said Warbelow’s Air Ventures co-owner Matt Atkinson, because most flights in the Interior occur during regular daytime hours. Atkinson is also the president of the industry group Alaska Air Carriers Association, and from that perspective he said he’s concerned just how the potential fees for after-hour flights will be determined so they’re fair across the board.

“I certainly understand the need to generate revenue and I think it’s appropriate to have the users of those services pay for those services, but the actual billing and execution of that would be pretty difficult,” he said.

Binder said the regulations are still in the works and likely will be put out for public comment in the first half of 2017. He said the regulations probably would go into place around the start of the 2018 fiscal year, which starts July 2017.


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