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Future of Era ownership up in the air

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2005

 

  Commuters board an Era Aviation plane at Kenai Municipal Airport. The airport has seen regularly scheduled passenger airlines come and go such as Kenai Express, TransNorthern and Yute Air. But Era has remained in Kenai since 1983. Clarion file photo by Jay Barret

Commuters board an Era Aviation plane at Kenai Municipal Airport. The airport has seen regularly scheduled passenger airlines come and go such as Kenai Express, TransNorthern and Yute Air. But Era has remained in Kenai since 1983.

Clarion file photo by Jay Barret

Chuck Johnson believes that in the 56-year history of Era Aviation on the Kenai Peninsula, the company has improved and grown throughout the years just like the communities it serves.

"We feel that we're a part of all the communities we serve," Johnson, the president of Era, said.

In December last year, Rowan Companies Inc., Era's parent company, announced its sale to SEACOR Holdings Inc. The New York-based company acquired Era because of its helicopter operations.

Era's new owner said they plan to sell the airline portion of the company. SEACOR still is in negotiations on the sale of the fixed-wing operation and no information on the sale is yet available, Johnson said. He did not want to speculate on the future of the company.

Era is the only regularly scheduled air service to Kenai, Homer and Valdez. In a December interview, Johnson said there would be no major changes in service to the Kenai Peninsula.

Since Era started servicing the peninsula, it has been a staple of the community.

Johnson said the company has remained involved with the community it serves by giving in-kind transportation services to the Challenger Learning Center, Kenai River Classic and many others.

The company started with 18 helicopters in 1948 as a Juneau helicopter service, Johnson said. Since then it has grown into an international company with an airline and flightseeing portion. At the time of its sale to SEACOR, there were 85 helicopters in its fleet. After combining its fleet with the new company, it grew to 128.

When the company was sold, it was the fifth largest helicopter business in the world — out of several thousand, Johnson said. The company also is the largest regional airline in Alaska based on total passengers carried, he said.

"That's fairly significant," he said.

Kenai Municipal Airport has seen regularly scheduled passenger airlines come and go, such as Kenai Express, TransNorthern and Yute Air. But Era has remained in Kenai since 1983 and currently is the only regularly scheduled passenger airline at the airport.

Rebecca Cronkhite, Kenai airport manager, said Era is a business with the elements of success needed in the airline industry.

"They run a good and safe business," she said.

She said they have good equipment, quality employees and a good schedule. She said the company does a good job fulfilling the basic requirements passengers are looking for. In addition, she said Era is an active member of the community.

"Every major community event — you generally see Era out there as a sponsor," she said. "And I think the community appreciates and responds to that."

Cronkhite believes the main reason some other airlines left is because Era "is a strong competitor," though some business and financial reasons contributed to these airlines' departure from the Kenai-Anchorage market, she said. And Era offers Alaska Airlines mileage plan miles, which is difficult for other companies to compete with, she said.

The Kenai airport is always looking for new airline service, Cronkhite said. In its future, she sees a second airline providing service to Anchorage, possibly with a different schedule and type of service.

"This is an excellent route," she said. "I firmly believe we can get someone else in the market that can provide an alternate to Era."



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