Tim Pope, co-owner and pilot of Natron Air in Soldotna, stands in front of his Cessna 206 airplane with is dogs A.J. and Abby before a trip to Kalgin Island. Pope is upgrading to a larger airplane to accomodate more customers, making it easier to serve various lodges and transport people to Anchorage.
Photo by Mark Quiner
The co-owner of Natron Air along with his wife, Janet Pope, is about to purchase this new airplane to increase the amount of passengers he can carry in one load making it easier to service Anchorage and many of the fishing and hunting lodges in the area.
"We are so excited," he said.
The new airplane can carry between five and seven passengers. Currently, he can carry between three and five in his Cessna 206.
Pope developed an interest in aviation when a friend took him on a flight about 11 years ago.
In 1998, he purchased Natron Air. Since that time, his giddiness increases every time he talks about planes. His enthusiasm has reached a fever pitch recently as he gets ready to make the purchase.
Pope said the plane is usually found in bush operations throughout Africa and Australia, but that there are none in Alaska.
While much of his business comes from servicing a variety of fishing lodges and flightseeing tours, Pope said his business is always evolving.
In the last four years, he said he started doing more charters to Anchorage.
Many of the lodges Natron Air works with are excited because it will save them trips to the Kenai Municipal Airport, he said.
Dottie Fischer, president of Alaska's Best Travel, said she is happy for the Popes and said she believes it will be good for his business.
Fischer said last year there was about a 30 percent increase in tourism in the area, and she expects it to increase at least as much this year.
However, the number of regularly scheduled flights from Anchorage to Kenai has not increased, raising the demand for charters, she said.
Many people like charters because they can fly on their own schedule and stay in a group, she said.
"It's the convenience," she said.
Pope said he is not exactly sure what turns his business will take after he has his new plane, but he is happy to have more options.
He said he thinks being able to fly to Anchorage will be an asset to the scheduled airlines such as Era because it will help manage the high demand for flights to the Kenai and Soldotna area.
The company will remain a one-plane operation his old plane is up for sale. Pope said he and his wife have fun every day and make flying whether to Anchorage or across Cook Inlet personal and rewarding for each customer.
Janet bakes goodies and cooks meals to welcome customers back.
With their dog A.J. there to greet everyone who comes through the door, the walls are covered with family and scenic photos and a plaque recognizing Janet's pie-baking ability, the Popes try to make everyone feel welcome.
"(Customers) love getting greeted by the dog, and they love getting free food," Pope said.
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