PenAir deals winning bid for Adak flights

Posted: Friday, July 06, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Peninsula Airways has been chosen to provide regular flight service between Anchorage and Adak.

State officials, meanwhile, are questioning whether the federally subsidized route is money wisely spent when so many other eligible communities are going without.

PenAir began direct passenger service last week from Anchorage to Adak, with four flights a week running Tuesdays through Fridays. Cost of a round-trip ticket is $1,100.

The service is the result of a contract awarded to PenAir by the U.S. Department of Transportation under its Essential Air Service program. The program was established in 1978 to ensure small communities retain a link to the national air transportation system.

Adak, a 300-resident Aleutian island community, has struggled economically since its 1997 Navy base closure.

Some 33 communities in Alaska and 86 in the rest of the country receive a federal subsidy under the program, according to Bill Mosely, a DOT spokesman in Washington, D.C. He said the program's annual budget is $50 million.

Anchorage-based PenAir will be paid in weekly increments based on a $564,043 annual rate. That, according to state officials, may not be a wise use of tax dollars.

''There are other communities in Alaska that would like to have subsidized service to large communities like Anchorage or Fairbanks, but these people are routed to the closest hub airport so they can connect to a flight elsewhere,'' Paul Bowers, director of statewide aviation for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, wrote to the federal transportation department. '' ... we think the (federal government) needs to carefully consider whether the current course is proper and fair to the rest of Alaska.''

Carl Siebe, the state airports engineer, said more than 150 communities in Alaska qualify for subsidized funding for air service, but receive none.

''Our concern is that a huge subsidy for one group detracts the rest of the subsidized communities,'' Siebe said.

Adak Mayor Agafon Krukoff said the state's comments could be ''damaging'' to the largely Aleut community.

''It's terrible,'' Krukoff said. ''I think they are shooting Alaska in the foot. I would think they (state officials) would want to take this opportunity to improve subsidized funding for us and other communities to help us economically. There's not enough funding as it is throughout the state.''

Further, he said, the federal government charters up to 10 executive jets weekly for crews doing cleanup work at the abandoned Navy base and will do so for the next several years.

Last December, Reeve Aleutian Airways stopped flying to Adak, leaving the community without air service. Reeve had operated two Boeing 727-100 jets that served Adak and other Aleutian destinations, as well as the Russian Far East.

Mosely said Reeve operated its flights with no government subsidy.

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