Air Transport World

Air link wild.(Industry Overview)

Moorman in Anchorage

With a land area of 576,000 sq. mi., most if it inaccessible by road, Alaska finds its Regional airlines vitally important

They do things little differently in Alaska, in terms of providing Regional airline service.

Take Ketchikan-based Taquan Air, which operates scheduled and charter service in southest Alaska with a large fleet of floatplanes and 19-seat British Aerospace Jestream 32Eps. Or Cape Smythe Air, which provides twin and single piston-engine service to places such as Barrow, in the northernmost part of Alaska on the Beaufort Sea, where winter temperatures can drop as low as minus 70[degrees]F. Or Bering Air, which operates passenger and cargo service with belly-pod-equipped Beech King Air 200s to Provideniya, in Russia, and Savoonga, Alaska, a yupik Eskimo village of 593 people on St. Lawrence Island, in the Bering sea, 225 mi. southwest of its home base of Nome. And there are others, such as Frontier Flying Service, others, Yute Air and Arctic Transportation Services, the names of which speak volumes about the area in which they fly. A lot of Regional carriers of varying sizes cover territory not accessible by road, rail or sea during the harsh winters.

"Most of the state depends on aviation for mail, building and medical supplies, groceries, medical services. You name it," says Kimberly Daniels Ross, executive director of the 80-member (38 scheduled) Alaska Air Carriers Assn.

Other differences exist between Regional carriers here and those in the 48 contiguous states. Nowhere in Alaska will one find a fleet of regional jets feeding traffic to any of the larger cities--just turboprops and piston-powered aircraft. Even Anchorage, the largest city, with a population of 254,000, 40% of the entire state's population, is fed mostly by propeller-driven equipment.

Nor will you find Regional carriers painted in the same livery as code-sharing partners. Alaska Airlines, which takes the name of the 49th state but is Seattle-based, is the only Major with code-sharing relationships. Era Aviation, PenAir and Reeve Aleutian Airways are the partners with Alaska Airlines.

Nevertheless, these and other carriers would like to increase operations on behalf of Alaska Airlines. "We certainly believe it makes good sense to extend our relationship with Regional carriers, particularly in the south-central region," said Alaska Airlines' Craig Battison, director of travel industry programs, which include alliances. "Most of the communities, which have a modest commercial value either in the local market, between that point and Anchorage or beyond, are in a position to have a relationship with Alaska Airlines."

Mostly small Regional, charter and on-demand air taxis provide year-round service for residents and visitors. They fly in some of the worst wintertime weather in the world. Many of the airports served could be better described as short, narrow gravel strips with no landing aids and an open-ended shack serving as the terminal. Of the 261 rural runways in Alaska, 218 are gravel and 43 are paved, according to AACA. Fitty runways are shorter than 2,900 ft. Many have no shorter navaids, despite pleas from commercial operators to the state and FAA.

As for regional aircraft up here, they're older, more varied and in some cases, smaller than what are seen in the contiguous 48 states.

Even Era Aviation and Peninsula Airways (PenAir), the state's two largest Regional airlines, which operate de Havilland Dash 8s and Saab 340Bs, respectively, rely on older aircraft. Era continues to fly five Convair 580s, while PenAir flies an assortment of smaller piston-powered aircraft in order to maintain flexibility. …

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