Regular Air Service Won't Return Until Week Of Nov. 4; Ravn To Fly Dash 8s, Not Saab 2000s

Oct 24, 2019

A Dash 8 airplane, photographed at Unalaska's airport on Friday, Oct. 18. Ravn has announced that it’ll be flying Dash 8s — not Saab 2000s — when regular flight service resumes during the week of Nov. 4.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

Unalaska's regular flight service to and from Anchorage will resume during the week of Nov. 4 — with Ravn's Dash 8 aircraft, not the PenAir Saab 2000 that's been flying the route since 2016.

Ravn made that announcement in a statement Thursday morning, about a week after a Saab 2000 crashed in Unalaska, killing one passenger and injuring more than a dozen others.

"RavnAir Alaska will be starting new Dash 8 scheduled service to Unalaska's Tom Madsen (Dutch Harbor) Airport sometime during the week of Nov. 4, following internal preparation and receipt of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for regularly scheduled commercial operations," said the statement.

"In the interim, RavnAir Alaska Dash 8 aircraft will able for charter operations," the statement continued. "Requests for charter service should be made through FlyRavn.com/charter."

Ravn officials have not responded to KUCB's requests for comment. Their statement did not say why they're planning to switch from the Saab 2000 to the Dash 8.

Alaska Airlines officials have not responded to KUCB's requests for comment either. But like Ravn, the airline released a statement Thursday morning.

"Alaska Airlines will not market scheduled service to or from Dutch Harbor with a Saab 2000 until the preliminary findings of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Saab have been reviewed. We understand this is a difficult time for the Unalaska community and seafood industry with the limited air service available," said the statement.

"At this time, flights marketed by Alaska Airlines through Nov. 8 have been canceled," the statement continued. "Customers holding a ticket for travel through Nov. 8 will receive a full refund. Please call 1-888-885-0155 with any questions about your reservation."

NTSB investigators leading the inquiry into last week's crash said the full process should take about a year. A preliminary report is expected within a few weeks.

Investigator John Lovell told the Unalaska City Council on Tuesday that the inquiry does not require the suspension of regular air service.

"PenAir took it upon themselves to limit their activity — just to be cautious," said Lovell. "That was not a requirement."

Furthermore, Lovell did not indicate that investigators would have had any safety concerns about the continued operation of PenAir's Saab 2000 fleet.

"Safety is not compromised [during] this time," said Lovell, referring to the investigation. "If we saw something that was important right now, we would issue an emergency recommendation [against flying.] So just the fact that it takes this time, it shows there doesn't appear to be anything that urgently needs to be addressed."

When the former owners and leadership team of PenAir introduced the Saab 2000 to Unalaska, they praised the twin-engine turboprop plane for its speed, carrying capacity, and ability to complete the trip from Anchorage without a refueling stop.

Meanwhile, Unalaskans are growing frustrated by the suspension of regular air service.

"I had calls today from a mother that's been stranded in Anchorage for five days," said former mayor Frank Kelty on Tuesday. "One of the things I've been hearing [about] in the community since this happened is a lack of outreach by Alaska and Ravn — or PenAir and Ravn — to the community itself. There's a lack of information."

Stalled service has left Unalaskans canceling vacations and medical appointments off-island, while those stranded in Anchorage deal with pricey, unplanned layovers. The same goes for regional residents who fly through Unalaska on their way to and from Akutan, Atka, and other Aleutian communities.

Some travelers have gotten in and out on charter flights, including a high school sports team and a number of people working in Bering Sea crabbing, which opened last week. Unalaska resident Andy Dietrick has even created a Facebook group called "Unalaska Plane Charter Coordination."

But City Manager Erin Reinders said relying on those limited and often expensive spots is not a solution.

"I've reached out to our congressional delegation," she said. "Our state and federal lobbyists are on it — to try to at least get the word out. We are an island community and we do depend upon this air service."

Other options have emerged during the suspension of regular flights. Grant Aviation has announced a new route between the island and Cold Bay "in an effort to help the community of Unalaska." Alaska Travel Source and Security Aviation are also flying three flights per week between Unalaska and Anchorage. 

This is a developing story. Please check for updates.