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Adak relieved Alaska Airlines will continue flying to Aleutian outpost

Carey RestinoThe Arctic Sounder

Concerns that Adak’s connection to the rest of Alaska and the Lower 48 were laid to rest this past week when the Department of Transportation reselected Alaska Airlines as the community’s provider under the Essential Air Service carrier program.

While the announcement was expected by many, Adak City Manager Layton Lockett said no one wanted to assume anything until the final decision was made.

“We are obviously very happy,” said Lockett. “It went exactly like we were hoping for.” That wasn’t always the case. Alaska Airlines announced last winter that it wouldn’t be bidding on a contract to fly its Boeing 737 jet to Adak because of high jet fuel prices, which made the route too costly, despite a $1.7-million federal subsidy.

PenAir then submitted a bid, asking for a $3.4-million subsidy. Concerns arose in Adak about the PenAir bid, saying that company’s service was spotty in the past due to severe weather conditions and a long flight that made it difficult to get smaller planes in and out.

The PenAir bid was rejected, and several other companies were solicited for bids. Then, in a surprise, Alaska Airlines submitted a bid lower than its 2011 contract, citing lower fuel costs.

Lockett said that was good news for the community, which recently celebrated the opening of a fish-processing plant on the island and is lobbying for Arctic developers to use its mothballed Navy infrastructure as a staging area for development to the north. Regular, dependable air service is considered crucial to such development.

 “I think the community is relieved,” Lockett said, adding that the length of the flight to Adak causes problems because pilots are limited to a certain number of hours in the air each day. “We are so far out it, almost necessitates having jet service.”

This article was originally published in The Bristol Bay Times and is reprinted here with permission.