RavnAir Pleads For 'Help,' Receives Mixed Response

Apr 29, 2020

RavnAir abruptly stopped all flights earlier this month, leaving Unalaska without commercial air service.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB

RavnAir customers received a surprising email in their inbox late last week. Titled "Help Save RavnAir Alaska," the email was a plea from CEO David Pflieger to tweet at President Donald Trump to reconsider Ravn for federal funding. 

The struggling airline filed for bankruptcy in early April, and was denied loans through the federal CARES Act last week. 

Stan Westerman was a pilot with RavnAir. He captained the De Havilland Dash 8 aircaft, a small, turbo-prop plane that, for months, was the only aircraft able to fly into Unalaska. 

When Westerman received Pflieger's plea, he took it upon himself to start a petition for President Trump to reconsider Ravn's application for federal funding. 

 

"I just started it to hopefully show there's a lot of public support for Ravn and what we do," said Westerman. "Not just the employees but everyone who flies on us and relies on us."

 

Like the rest of Ravn's staff, Westerman lost his job earlier this month after the airline filed for bankruptcy. 

 

Ravn applied for $75 million in loans through the federal CARES Act, but only received about $5 million. The social media campaign and petition are lobbying for Trump to reconsider how airlines are evaluated for federal relief. Ravn proponents claim that the CARES Act formula used to calculate loans favors large airlines over small regional carriers. 

 

Westerman said that, with almost 4,000 signatures, the petition is getting more attention than he expected: "So far it's been really good. Surprisingly way better than I thought it would be."

 

There have been some not-so-positive reactions to Ravn's request for support. Since filing for bankruptcy, the airline has not refunded outstanding tickets, leaving some Alaskans thousands of dollars in the hole. 

 

Raymond Nashookpuk is from Wainwright, Alaska. Nashookpuk got together with his cousin and started their own petition. This one, for President Trump not to consider funding the struggling rural airline. It has more than 800 signatures. 

 

"The customer service that was given to us, every time we tried to call, we'd call at least 30 times before they would answer their phones," said Nashookpuk. "It took forever for us to get checked in. Flights were always delayed."

 

RavnAir was Wainwright's only airline option. But after Ravn folded, Wright Air Service stepped in. Nashookpuk said that, since then, air service has actually improved. 

 

"Now that we have a different airline operating, everything is coming in on a timely manner," said Nashookpuk. "We have things that were ordered a week ago that came in a week later."

 

Westerman, the former Ravn pilot, said he hasn't received any official response to the petition for more federal loans for Ravn. 

 

According to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska's  congressional delegation supported Ravn's original loan application. Murkowski said the state's air carriers are meeting to address gaps in airline service throughout the state. 

 

Since Ravn folded, there are still many communities that have no commercial air service, the largest of which is Unalaska. 

After cancelling all flights and filing for bankruptcy earlier this month, Ravn released its liquidation plan on Monday.