Competition heats up in Homer air service

Flights aim to increase options between Interior Alaska, South-central, Southern Peninsula

Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2002

HOMER -- South peninsula air travelers will have another option to get to and from Homer, Anchorage and Fairbanks when Frontier Flying Service begins scheduled daily service today.

Frontier plans one flight a day from the Smokey Bay Air office on Kachemak Drive, on the opposite side of the runway from the Homer Airport Terminal used by Era Aviation.

Competition on the Homer-Anchorage route will also increase in June when Homer Air plans to begin two round trips a day, if passengers are available.

Scott Cunningham, a co-owner of Smokey Bay Air, said the new service is a result of negotiations begun by the Homer-based Smokey Bay.

"We've been trying to work this out for a while," Cunningham said.

Smokey Bay Air operators say they hope the new service will increase connection opportunities for their passengers flying from Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek. Smokey Bay typically flies across Kachemak Bay about every hour or so, depending on demand, Cunningham said.

The Homer-based air service is also seeking some discounts for Smokey Bay passengers who link to Frontier flights, Cunningham said, but details are still being negotiated.

Cunningham said he initially went to Frontier in an effort to widen links between air carriers throughout Alaska.

"I'd like to see people all over the state doing this," Cunningham said.

According to Craig Kenmonth, general manager of the Fairbanks-based Frontier, the fare between Homer and Anchorage will be $94 one way or $165 for a round-trip ticket. Homer to Fairbanks will be $225 one way or $329 round trip.

One daily flight of a Frontier 19-passenger, twin-engine turboprop Beechcraft 1900 will leave Anchorage at 5 p.m. and arrive in Homer 30 minutes later. The return flight would leave Homer at 6 p.m.

Fairbanks to Homer flights will depart Fairbanks at 1:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday, while a Sunday flight will leave Fairbanks at 3:15 p.m. All the Fairbanks flights will arrive in Homer at 5:30 p.m. Homer to Fairbanks flights will leave Homer at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Sunday, arriving in Fairbanks at 9:40 p.m. On Saturday, the flight will leave Homer at 6 p.m., arriving in Fairbanks at 1:35 am.

Kenmonth said Tuesday that a plan to bring Frontier to Kenai that surfaced in March is "still under consideration," but no decision has been made for such a route.

Saying Frontier "had strong urgings from people in the community of Homer to bring evening flights down there," Kenmonth said the airline has "been expanding our presence out of Anchorage the last several years."

In addition to Fairbanks and Anchorage, Frontier serves 18 communities in Alaska with 14 aircraft. Although the new Homer service is coordinated for convenient links to other Interior Alaska Frontier flights, Kenmonth said he would be looking for "feedback from the community" in considering scheduling additional flights in Homer.

Era Aviation has been the dominant scheduled airline out of Homer for 17 years.

While the new Frontier service undercuts Era's fares, Era president Chuck Johnson said he "welcomes the competition." Saying that one airline in town gives passengers only one place to complain, "when you don't have competition, there's nothing to compare (service) to."

In reaction to what Johnson said have been long-term increases in costs especially for employee and aircraft insurance, Era raised all its fares throughout Alaska by 25 percent on May 2.

"Sept. 11 was the straw that broke the camel's back," he said, referring to drastic increases in insurance and operating expenses for airlines nationwide. "It's not cheap to provide safe and reliable air service in Alaska," Johnson said.

Era fares between Homer and Anchorage on May 2 went from $152 to $190 round trip, with a seven-day advance booking, Johnson said. Full one-way fare went from $108 to $135 and from $82 to $103 with a seven-day advance purchase.

Another regional air carrier, Homer Air, is also planning to begin running two flights a day from Homer to Anchorage starting June 1, if passengers are available, operations director Neil Bergt said Wednesday. The flights are planned to allow residents of Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham to make a round trip to Anchorage in one day, Bergt said.

The 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. flights from Homer aboard seven-passenger, twin-engine Islanders will return to Homer at 9:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Fare between Homer and Anchorage will be $55 each way, Bergt said.

R.J. Kelly is the managing editor of the Homer News.

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