Alaska News Nightly: August 24, 2010

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Alaska Gains Grants for Airport Upgrades Across State
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
FAA administrator Randy Babbitt along with Senator Mark Begich announced today in Anchorage nearly $60 million in federal grants for airport upgrades across the state. The funding is for improvements to public use airports as part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. Babbit says the goal is to improve overall safety and efficiency.

ADSB is the next generation air traffic control modernization project. Senator Begich says the new technology was first introduced here in 1999.  The Capstone upgrades use GPS and other technology to enhance visual flight awareness for pilots. It has cut the accident rate nearly in half.

Happy with the success of the system in Alaska, the FAA is rolling out Capstone across the rest of the nation. The largest grant will be for Sitka, $30 million to expand the runway safety area for the Rocky Gutierrez Airport.  Another $20 million will be directed to the city of Chefornak as they continue work on a new airport. Chefornak is 96 miles Southwest of Bethel and serves Kipnuk and other communities. Chefornak city administrator Bernard Mael says they have one of the busiest airports in the region with daily flights for bypass mail and supplies brought in by Era, Ute Air and Grant Aviation. He says the community of 475 people will benefit greatly from a new airport with a longer runway. He says larger planes will be able to come in and that will bring down the price of goods for local stores.

Mael says the work will mean 20 to 30 jobs for locals. It will be complete in 2012. Rich Sewell is with Alaska DOT’s division of statewide aviation. He says Chefornak’s gravel airstrip is in bad shape and is currently too narrow for runway lights.

Sewell says the state owns 255 airports and $2.5 million in FAA grants will go toward overall planning for Alaska’s aviation system.  Another $2.5 million will buy runway snow removal equipment for numerous airports including Bethel, Cold Bay, False Pass, Kodiak, Seward and Tuluksak.

No Sign of Missing Aircraft
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
A fourth day of searching for the missing plane in or near Katmai National Park and Preserve hasn’t turned up any sign of the aircraft. The plane, carrying three National Park Service employees was reported missing Saturday, when it failed to show up in King Salmon. Ten helicopters and planes have been combing over the search area. National Park Service spokesman John Quinley says the plan today was to go over some terrain that hadn’t been looked at before and revisit some areas.

The plane was leaving Swikshak Lagoon in Katmai National Park, in route to King Salmon. It was piloted by Marco Alletto and operated by Branch River Air Service. The park service employees were two brothers, Neal and Seth Spradlin and Mason McLeod. Quinley says it’s difficult to have so little to go on after several days.

Quinley says they will continue flying until 10:00 pm tonight. There’s no decision yet on when the search will be stopped or scaled back.

Scientists Search for Lost Crab Pots
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
Federal fishery scientists have been searching for lost Dungeness crab pots in waters around Petersburg and Wrangell this August. The two-year project is part of a broader effort to learn more about the effect of various types of marine debris in the United States. So far, the researchers say the impact of derelict dungy pots in Alaska seems to be relatively low.

Japan Airlines Will Continue Alaska Flights
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Japan Airlines will continue to fly to Alaska.  Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Deb Hickock says the troubled Japanese carrier, has scheduled Fairbanks flights for this winter despite bankruptcy reorganization and significant downsizing.

Hickock says the number of Fairbanks winter flights, which begin after Christmas, is comparable to last year.  J.A.L. also flies to Anchorage and Fairbanks during the summer. Meanwhile, Germany’s Condor Airlines will continue flying four summertime flights per week to Alaska in 2011.  Three will go direct to Anchorage, with the fourth stopping in Fairbanks as usual, but Hickock says there’s a change in the flight pattern.

Condor will also run a separate weekly direct flight to Whitehorse.

Southwest Alaska Unemployment Rates Drop
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The unemployment rate in Southwest Alaska dropped significantly last month in part due to the seasonal increase in available jobs from the seafood processing industry.

Anchorage Charter Schools Counter National Trend
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
In recent months, the national media has reported that charter schools are not meeting performance expectations. That’s not the case in Anchorage, however, where last night’s school board meeting showed the district’s charter schools are quite effective.

Sobriety Movement Leaders Speak in Anchorage
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
The story of how a village in British Columbia went from 100 percent alcoholic to almost 100 percent abstinence is powerful. Yesterday three of the leaders in the sobriety movement at the Shuswap village of Alkalai Lake were in Anchorage to speak at a town meeting hosted by Sobermiut, an Alaska organization that promotes sobriety.

Book Documents Salmon, Tree Relationship
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Everyone knows salmon swim in rivers and oceans. But, salmon swimming in trees? Not so farfetched, says nature photographer Amy Gulick, whose book Salmon In The Trees came out in April. It documents the rich relationship between the bountiful salmon and large trees of Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.