Akutan now has scheduled flight service back into their community as of Wednesday of this week after PenAir, the community's former scheduled air provider discontinued service there last month on Tuesday October 23rd.
PenAir cited the reason for discontinuing their service to the fish-processing community was the unavailibilty of a suitable landing area for their aging Grumman Goose that was built during the World War II era. Their former landing area was taken over and upgraded for the hovercraft providing service to the new airport. That new airport, with a 4,500 foot paved runway, is situated on a nearby island. This renovation of the ramp made it unsuitable for the aircraft. This only left a rocky area of the beach for the amphibious aircraft to pull out of the water at. Fearing damage to the high-maintenance aircraft that the company planned to sell, the decision was made to halt operations.
PenAir had previously sent a Termination of Service notice to the Department of Transporation in August of this year. The airline wanted to finish service by September 1 but continued service as long as possible to lessen the disruption of service to the community. PenAir had originally intended to continue air service into the new airport, but without weather monitoring at the site as well as a lack of instrument approach to the new facility, PenAir lacked the aircraft with the proper tools with the exception of the amphibious craft.
While Akutan welcomes the restart of scheduled service into the community, costs for transportation will rise for fliers and other services such as air freight and postal service. While the costs of an airline ticket into the airport are comparible to the cost with the former airline, added costs of the hovercraft will cause fliers to dig a little deeper into their pockets. PenAir charged $154-one way to Unalaska 35 miles away. Grant Aviation’s price is slightly lower than that at $148, but the hovercraft service needed to complete the journey from the island to the community of Akutan will tack on an extra $100 onto the cost of a trip from Unalaska to Akutan.
The high cost of the 6-miile-trip is directly attributed to the high operating costs of the hovercraft which is owned by the Aleutians East Borough and operated by Hover Link of Seattle. The annual contract for the hovercraft is $2.5 million. That contract is based on a cost of $2,500 per hour at 1,000 hours a year, with fuel cost being extra. The crew of the hovercraft consists of a Captain, Pilot, Deckhand and Engineer.
Grant will maintain 12 scheduled flights a week into the community.