Stable Air Travel Named Unalaska's Top Legislative Priority

Feb 12, 2020

A RavnAir Group plane waits on the runway at Unalaska's airport.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

The City Council's top priority is the "stabilization" of Unalaska's commercial flights.

On Tuesday, councilors voted unanimously to update their state legislative initiatives ahead of a lobbying trip to Juneau next month.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said putting air travel at the top of the eight-item list was necessary following October's fatal plane crash, as well as the subsequent suspensions and uncertainties regarding regular flights.

"It is a definite problem," said Robinson. "It's an economic problem, as well as a health problem, for the community. I think we're doing the right thing by moving this up as the top issue."

By amending the list, councilors are trying to catch the attention of the Alaska Department of Transportation.

Assistant City Manager JR Pearson said the state owns and manages Unalaska's airport, so it's up to the DOT to start the process of evaluating and potentially lengthening the short runway.

"This number one priority initiative is a call for the state of Alaska to update their airport master plan for Unalaska to address runway improvement," said Pearson.

The city's long-term goal is to create redundancy by attracting more than one airline to the Unalaska-Anchorage route or allowing a wider variety of planes that can land safely.

The City Council has also made air travel its top federal priority. Robinson said the designation will be important for financing any future airport renovation.

"We need to convey to our congressional delegation that at some point, when the state gets the plan updated, we're more than likely going to be seeking federal dollars, as the state likely will not have any," he said.

City Manager Erin Reinders said it's too soon to estimate the cost of a renovation because this will likely be a years-long process.

In the meantime, Unalaska's other legislative priorities include high-speed internet, continued ferry service, and a $50-million-plus overhaul of Captains Bay Road.