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Ravn Alaska slashes workforce, raising questions about regional airline’s future

Theo Greenly
At this point, the nine communities served by Ravn Alaska can expect fewer flights, though none of its destinations will be eliminated, a company spokesperson said.

Between Friday and Monday, Alaska’s biggest regional airline laid off 130 of its 400-plus employees.

At this point, the nine communities served by Ravn Alaska can expect fewer flights, though none of its destinations will be eliminated, a company spokesperson said.

The decision was unfortunate and driven by a lack of profitability on certain routes, Ravn Alaska CEO Rob McKinney said through the spokesperson. The privately held company has shared little else about the layoffs and impacts they will have on the rural Alaska communities it serves, or its three Lower 48 destinations under the New Pacific Airlines brand.

Unanswered questions about the future of the Anchorage-based airline abound.

“So everybody’s kind of on pins and needles,” said Alaska travel expert Scott McMurren.

He runs the newsletter Alaska Travelgram and has been following Ravn’s situation closely, including monitoring fares and routes. As of Wednesday, he had yet to see changes in Ravn’s schedules.

Jessica Caplan, a representative of the Ravn branch of the labor union Air Line Pilots Association, International, said in a post on the union website that the layoffs were “shocking and disappointing.”

“Even more surprising: management has not mentioned the layoffs in any communications with us,” Caplan wrote the day after employees were informed. “We are all impacted in some way when a layoff affects our fellow employees, our friends and their families, or us directly.”

She called for more transparency from Ravn management. She wrote that 22 pilots were among the 130 people laid off.

Her web posts were initially public, but are now password-protected for union members. Caplan declined an interview request and referred inquiries to a media contact who did not respond.

McMurren said whatever changes do come will hit Ravn’s rural destinations harder.

“So they have an outsized influence in the markets that they serve because, in addition to, you know, having the most traffic and so forth, they have the biggest planes,” he said. “The Dash 8-100 series seats up to 37 people.”

Smaller communities are otherwise mostly served by nine-seat planes, McMurren said.

“Think about places like St. Paul Island and Dutch Harbor and, you know, the communities that they serve: Cold Bay, Sand Point, St. Mary’s, Unalakleet,” he said. “And particularly St. Paul Island. They’re the only air carrier that flies out there on a scheduled basis.”

Michael Baldwin has lived in St. Paul, a Bering Sea community of about 400, for more than 40 years. He’s the school principal and superintendent, and also has a side gig offering island tours in his side-by-side. It’s an off-the-beaten path destination for birders.

“Yup, it’s the birding,” Baldin said. “We have a lot of birds out here that people pay good money to come see.”

During past airline shakeups, St. Paul has gone without regular service to Anchorage. The workaround, Baldwin said, was to fly to Dutch Harbor or Cold Bay, hope the weather held, then switch airlines to get to Anchorage.

“We really depend on that bigger flight,” he said. “There’s some days that we might have, you know, 15 people trying to get out of here.”

The reduced service can be especially problematic if someone has medical issues they’re trying to take care of, he said. Fewer flights also means fewer birders.

“It’s kind of going through the community, and we’re kind of worried about what’s going to happen, because when you lay people off, the next step is possibly cutting off services to places,” he said. “Whether that same schedule holds, keeps going the same, or they’re gonna change it again, we’re not sure.”

Baldwin just flew back to St. Paul from Anchorage on Tuesday. His original flight was scheduled as the layoffs were happening. The Ravn rep who called him didn’t explain why his flight had to be changed, but he said he assumed it was related.

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