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City's Final Charter Scheduled For Wednesday; Unalaskans Wonder About Return Date For Saab 2000

Hope McKenney/KUCB

While Ravn Air Group is planning to restart daily commercial service on Thursday — 28 days after suspending it in the wake of a fatal plane crash — charter flights continue to operate between Unalaska and Anchorage.

Mayor Vince Tutiakoff Sr. was one of the passengers who caught the city's midday public charter on Monday. While waiting for the plane, he said Ravn and Alaska Airlines have been in close communication with the city, following its declaration of a local emergency over the lack of regular service.

But Tutiakoff also said that Ravn has continued to push back the restart date — from five days after the crash to the week of Nov. 4 and to Nov. 14 — largely to train personnel on the DeHavilland Dash 8 aircraft. 

That plane is replacing the Saab 2000, which flew the route between 2016 and the Oct. 17 crash. While Ravn President Dave Pflieger has said the airline will return to the Saab as soon as he's confident in its ability to fly safety, he didn't offer any timeline.

"Hopefully we'll have an answer [at the City Council meeting] tonight or by our meeting on Nov. 26," said Tutiakoff. "The Dash 8 is a fairly good plane, but it's not big enough."

Alyeska Seafoods plant manager Don Goodfellow agreed with Tutiakoff.

As he prepares for the busy winter fishing season and its influx of seasonal workers, Goodfellow said he needs to know when the bigger, faster Saab will be back into service.

"I don't think they have enough of these [Dash 8] planes to handle all the traffic that's coming in here starting on the 27th or 28th of December," said Goodfellow. "But I've lived out here for too many years to let stuff like this get under my skin.

"It's one of the conditions of living out here," he continued. "It was such an anomaly that this happened — the tragedy. But you get three weeks of bad weather or two days of bad weather, and it doesn't matter. You've got hundreds of people backed up in Anchorage." 

Still, former PenAir employee Augie Kochuten said Ravn's transition into the Unalaska market hasn't been very good. The company took over PenAir last year following a bankruptcy.

"I've been here all of my adult life," said Kochuten. "[Flying] was manageable and PenAir did us good. It was a real loss to us when Ravn took over, and we didn't know we were going to pay so highly. I just have to say it's not the same service and it's never going to be."

The city has chartered one more round-trip flight for Wednesday, Nov. 13 before Ravn is set to resume regular service on Thursday.

In total, the city will have fronted five charters in about two weeks. Two of those flights were canceled and rescheduled due to poor weather.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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