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Alaska delegation advances rural mail plan

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Legislation affecting Alaska's bypass mail service to rural villages moved Wednesday in both the House and the Senate.

The Senate Government Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska to set new criteria for companies that want to fly bypass mail in the state. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, secured similar language on a supplemental spending bill in the House.

The actions Wednesday set the stage for quick passage of the bypass mail changes by attaching them to the supplemental bill, which carries an extra $30 billion primarily for the military and domestic security efforts in the current fiscal year.

Jerry Rock, president of Evergreen Helicopters of Alaska, said it appeared that Alaska's delegation had won the battle over the issue. Evergreen had been hoping to get into the bypass mail business.

''They're putting us in a position where there's no way we can stop it,'' Rock said. ''If it went through the normal procedures we could.''

Stevens and Young want to limit the types of air carriers to which the U.S. Postal Service could give bypass mail. They say doing so would save money and encourage passenger service to rural villages.

Under the bypass program, shippers can send 1,000 pounds or more of material, including groceries, to rural Alaska at parcel post rates. It's dubbed ''bypass'' because packages do not go through post offices. Instead, they are taken directly to eligible air carriers on a rotating basis.

The Postal Service pays airlines to carry bypass mail using a formula based on industry costs. But the program is costing the Postal Service too much and some companies are just flying bypass mail and not offering passenger service, Stevens and Young assert.

Their legislation would restrict new carriers on mainline routes between Alaska's larger cities and Bush hubs. No new carriers on a route would be allowed unless they provide a certain level of passenger service. Existing carriers would not face the passenger requirement.

Evergreen contends that's unfair.

''If we can't compete fairly with Alaska Airlines and the other three, then how can we expand our passenger service?'' Rock asked.



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