There's a new kid on the tarmac.
Kenai Express will offer passenger service at Kenai Municipal Airport beginning June 1. The new air carrier will offer seven flights per day, seven days a week, between Kenai and Anchorage. Nine seats per flight will be available on the Fairchild Metroliner that will serve the route.
The carrier is part of Bellair Inc., which flies mail and cargo out of operations based in Kotzebue, Fairbanks and Anchorage.
Kenai Express will be supported by operations moved from Anchorage International Airport to the Kenai airport. However, it may take some time to fully complete the move.
"It's looking like we might be starting a hangar sometime in August or November, but it depends on the process," said Kenai Express operations manager Kamichia Darby.
If Kenai Express is successful, it'll be the first time an air carrier other than Era Aviation has been able to offer regular passenger service at the Kenai airport for a sustained period of time. Carriers such as Yute Air and TransNorthern have started up passenger service from Kenai to Anchorage in recent years, only to fold up shop.
Darby said she could understand why potential customers might be leery of Kenai Express's ability to compete, but assured that the carrier plans to commit the people and resources to provide passenger service for the long haul.
"I think a lot of people might be a bit skeptical," she said from her office in Anchorage. "Our goal is to be around for a long time. Some of our people will be moving down there. Our operations will be moving down there. I'm selling my house and moving down there."
An airport the size of Kenai's is lucky to get a second carrier, according to Airport Manager Rebecca Cronkhite.
"It's not unusual for a small airport to have only one air carrier. We're very excited to have another carrier coming to Kenai." she said.
Cronkhite sees no reason why the traffic through the Kenai airport can't support two carriers. Although she's uncertain of the particulars, she speculated the most recent contenders, Yute Air and TransNorthern, failed for reasons other than profitability.
"It's my understanding they didn't leave solely because they couldn't make money on the Kenai-Anchorage route," Cronkhite said.
Although Darby is confident Kenai Express can compete, she acknowledges the carrier's chances of success over the long haul are up in the air.
"There's no guarantee," she said. "We're just gonna give it a whirl and see where it goes."
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