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Grant Aviation takes over service, but Akutan's airport still adrift

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman
Aleutians East Borough photo

Even with a brand new airport that just opened this summer, mail and people are still flying into Akutan the old fashioned way, splashing down in a Goose. The new airport is sitting idle across the bay on another island, waiting for a ship.

The transition in small plane service from Peninsula Airways to another carrier has been smoothly completed between Unalaska and Atka and Nikolski, with Grant Aviation now flying people and mail.

But Pen Air is still flying its antique float plane into Akutan, even with the recent construction of the state airport on Akun Island.

The problem is that the new airport is on another island, and Grant Aviation operates airplanes, not boats, said Grant's president, Bruce McGlasson.

McGlasson expects the problem to be soon resolved with a hovercraft operated by the Aleutians East Borough, which will transport people and mail from the new airport on Akun Island to the village of Akutan, on Akutan Island.

Until then, Grant is only flying private charter flights to Akutan. Scheduled service requires a federal mail contract, and details are still being worked out since the new contract will involve both an airplane and a boat, and Grant doesn't operate boats. And that adds another issue that didn't exist with Pen Air's plane that was both a plane and a boat, and would splash down in front of the village.

In the meantime the Grumman Goose will keep flying into Akutan, until a new airline, probably Grant, takes over, according to Pen Air vice president for operations Bryan Carricabaru. The latest the Goose can legally fly is Dec. 31, without a major annual overhaul that would cost over $200,000. When another carrier takes over, Pen Air will retire the high-maintenance vintage World War II vintage aircraft and put it up for sale, he said.

"You want to buy it?" he asked.

Pen Air is pulling out of small-plane village operations, while continuing flight service on major routes into Anchorage, and has even expanded into Boston and Maine.

The handover of airline service has not been a problem between Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and Atka and Nikolski.

"It's awesome to see the new service. They've had a 100 percent success rate getting into Atka," said Bill Dushkin after he arrived at the Unalaska airport last week on Grant's nine-passenger King Air. Passengers flights have increased from two to three a week, he said. Previously, Pen Air flew two passenger trips, while a third flight was only for cargo.

"The only bad thing is that we have to remain overnight here in Dutch Harbor on our way back from Anchorage," Dushkin said. That's because the village flight schedule has changed under the new operation.

Pen Air is handling ground services and ticket sales for Grant, but eventually Grant plans to do it themselves as it gets settled into the Aleutians, said pilot James Miller. The flight schedule will likely change, Miller said.

Grant is an experienced Alaska airline, flying out of Bethel, Dillingham, Kenai, Homer, Valdez and Anchorage.

his article was originally published by The Dutch Harbor Fisherman/Bristol Bay Times and is reprinted here with permission.