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Pen Air Service Changes Could Affect Rural Alaskans

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PenAir has had a long history in Alaska. Founder Orin Seybert founded the company in 1955 with a small two seat plane. In 1965 they became incorporated and from there the company made many leaps and bounds in the Alaskan aviation industry. They have become an intregal part of life in many small villages around Alaska providing not only passenger flight service via planes like the Cesna Caravan with 135 service, but also cargo service. They also hold contracts in many of the villages to get the mail delivered.

Recently they have been in the news with some exciting developments. They are providing service on the east coast with a hub out of Boston’s Logan International. This provides an essential service for many smaller communities with people communting via air plane. They have also been chosen to temporarely provide flights in Hawaii with a 10 month contract. This is pretty exciting stuff for a local Alaskan company to be called upon to provide service in Hawaii and to put a hub on the east coast. Surely, none of this was in the company’s 1955 plan under the subtitle: “Stated Goals.”

Sadly not all the reporting in the news about PenAir has been positive. Their CEO, Daniel Seybert, has put leaders of the Qagan Tayagungin Tribe on what is essentially a no fly list, with a letter stating they were not allowed on PenAir property. This happened over a legal dispute between the tribe and the company. Now those 15 community leaders must either charter a flight or use the Alaska Marine highway to travel out of Sand Point.

Besides the new hub in Boston, Penair operates hubs at  Dillingham Airport, Unalaska Airport, King Salmon Airport and Cold Bay Airport. They generally service these hubs with 121 service via their fleet of Saab 340’s. From those hubs, travelers would take one of the smaller aircrafts to their final destination (usually a village with less population density). 121 service in known as regional service with different regulations that most airlines fly under. 135 service is for bush service with much less stringent regulations.

After hearing some rumors that PenAir has stopped 135 services in Dillingham, I called their Alaska hubs for confirmation. In Dillingham if one wanted to go to Togiak, PenAir would no longer be an option. According to the service agent I talked to in Dillingham the other scheduled service would be on a much smaller airline, Grant Aviation. As of this morning I called to speak with their COO Scott Bloomquist, but he was in a meeting and unable to speak with me.

There are many unanswered questions with the end of their regional 135 service. What is the impact on those communities? How will they find alternate ways to transport people and cargo? Are there enough smaller airlines to handle the capacity PenAir could? What will the impact on cargo be? How many layoff’s have or will occur? What will happen with the unneeded aircraft? Is the company downsizing its Alaskan operations, and are there other plans for expansion in the lower 48?

But the first question I have is simple: Why did you end your 135 services?

These questions will be answered in time or hopefully sooner once I can speak with company COO Scott Bloomquist. Alaskan’s need some time to strategize and plan other means of transportation and cargo services.

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