PenAir faces complications getting Saab 2000’s off the ground

PenAir’s new planes arrived in Unalaska last month with the promise of faster service. But as of Tuesday, about 100 people were on the standby list waiting for flights.

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(Photo by Pipa Escalante, KUCB - Unlaska)
(Photo by Pipa Escalante, KUCB – Unlaska)

According to Missy Roberts, the Vice President of sales and marketing for PenAir, the Saab 2000 has had mechanical issues, the airline has been short on crew, and there have been weather delays.

“So its sort of that perfect storm where the scenarios all happened at the same time creating the cancelations that you see that has created the backlog of individuals trying to get to their destination,” Roberts said.

With the Saab 2000 coming on board, crewmembers must be trained to operate it. Crews are specific to an aircraft type meaning if there is a mechanical problem, they cannot cross over to a different plane.

Roberts said that’s a standard Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation across the industry.

“If you are in a major carrier, if that carrier operates both 737’s and 757’s, those operators are not cross-trained to operate on either one,” Roberts said.

The rule comes out of safety concerns.

“The aircrafts themselves are completely different styles when it comes to operations,” Roberts said. “And even though somebody might be really talented and might be able to operate both, they — really from a safety standpoint — want crew to be focused at one aircraft type at a time.”

Roberts said weather cancelations are interfering with the ability to train staff.

“If there’s a weather cancelation and we cant get that aircraft in there, then we also can’t get the crew trained and certified so we can check them off and they can be a fulltime crew member on that aircraft type,” Roberts said.

Once everyone is certified, the airline should be fully operational.

The 2000’s are flying to many airports in PenAir’s network including Dutch Harbor, Cold Bay, King Salmon, and Dillingham. Right now, the airline has three of the planes in operation; eventually, there will be two more joining the fleet.

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Zoe Sobel is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk based in Unalaska. As a high schooler in Portland, Maine, Zoë Sobel got her first taste of public radio at NPR’s easternmost station. From there, she moved to Boston where she studied at Wellesley College and worked at WBUR, covering sports for Only A Game and the trial of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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