Ravn Air Group, which provides passenger air service to more than 115 Alaska communities as well as mail and freight deliveries, suddenly shut down most of its routes as of Thursday.
The company also notified the U.S. Postal Service it could no longer bring mail to 180 communities, mostly in the northern part of the state, a USPS spokesman said Thursday. The notice left postal officials scrambling to find another way to get the mail to rural Alaskans.
Ravn had already reduced its schedule after experiencing a 90 percent drop in demand amid coronavirus-related booking declines, according to a company spokeswoman. Gov. Mike Dunleavy on March 27 banned all nonessential travel within Alaska.
The company announced in a statement Thursday it was taking “further actions to drastically cut costs” and further reducing flying operations by 90 percent. Ravn is shrinking its fleet from 30 aircraft to three Dash 8s.
That allows the company to continue service to communities it’s federally required to serve and continue flights to other markets served with the planes, the statement says.
These are the only communities Ravn is serving now: Kenai, Homer, Valdez, King Salmon, Dillingham, St. Paul, Aniak, St. Mary’s, McGrath and Unalakleet.
All RavnAir Connect aircraft will be parked and all operations stopped, the company says. RavnAir Alaska Dash 8 flights will continue to operate.
RavnAir Group serves more than 115 communities statewide with direct flights between Anchorage and cities like Fairbanks, Homer and Bethel. But the majority of Ravn’s destinations are smaller Bush villages that rely on RavnAir Connect for essential deliveries and medical services, as well as routine travel and commuting, according to the company website.
The company already faced financial hurdles after suspending service for weeks in the wake of a fatal plane crash when a Ravn-operated Saab 2000 carrying 42 people overran the runway at Unalaska’s airport last year.
The company’s decision this week to suspend service to many small Alaskan communities came as a surprise to the U.S. Postal Service, communications manager David Rupert said Thursday.
“There wasn’t long-term planning that went into this,” Rupert said. “Normally you do, you have some long-term planning that goes into this. This was not.”
Postal officials are hoping to find alternative providers as soon as possible, he said. “Our goal is to have uninterrupted service and we thank everybody for their patience.”
Dunleavy issued a statement Thursday about Ravn’s service reduction: “We want rural Alaskans to know the aviation industry is working cooperatively to ensure essential passenger service, bypass mail and freight service is maintained to their communities during these uncertain times. This morning I also spoke with officials from the United States Postal Service and they assured me they are working with contract carriers to maintain scheduled service to rural areas. The importance of the supply chain to rural Alaska communities is a priority for my administration.” This was taken from ADN