Fat snowflakes fell as passengers boarded the inaugural Ravn Alaska flight out of Dillingham and King Salmon, heading toward Anchorage. Flight attendant Diane Andrew Ross welcomed travelers aboard the full flight Wednesday morning. Ross is originally from Aleknagik, though she now lives in Anchorage. She said it was “heartwarming” to see friends and family at the airport in Dillingham.
Bristol Bay residents who boarded the flight were enthusiastic for another airline to provide service between Anchorage and regional hubs. PenAir previously offered the only regular, year-round flights connecting Anchorage and Bristol Bay.
“It’s very expensive to live out in rural Alaska,” Georgette Baumgartener from Dillingham said. She summed up what she hopes to see with another airline servicing the region — “more competition. Prices should come down. More people flying again.”
It is not unusual for a round trip flight between Anchorage and Dillingham to cost $500 or more. Several other passenger’s on Wednesday’s Ravn flight echoed Baumgartener’s hope that increased competition will bring down airfare.
Ravn’s president and CEO, David Pflieger, called Bristol Bay an “obvious” choice for expansion. This is the first new route the company has added in six years.
“When we look at our network and where we fly in the state, we weren’t flying there, and some of the folks who’ve been with the company 10 plus years have said, ‘Hey, let’s get into these communities.’ So we looked at it. We ran the numbers, heard overwhelmingly from the community that they wanted more competition and more reliable service, and here we are,” Pflieger said.
Starting Wednesday, Ravn offers two roundtrip flights per day between Anchorage, Dillingham and King Salmon on weekdays. On weekends, they offer one roundtrip flight per day. It operates Bombardier Dash-8 aircraft on these routes, which can seat up to 29 passengers and make the trip between Dillingham and Anchorage in about 80 minutes.
Pflieger explained that ensuring local demand for another air carrier and securing facilities for operation were among the main considerations for expansion.
Rather than buying or building its own terminals, Ravn is contracting with local businesses to operate terminals for its flights. In King Salmon, King Salmon Ground Service is providing a terminal. In Dillingham, Ravn is operating out of Freshwater Adventures.
Freshwater Adventures’ owner and lifelong Dillingham resident, Jerry Ball, called PenAir and its operators “legends of Bristol Bay and good people.” Ball also repeated the sentiment that an additional air carrier will benefit Bristol Bay residents.
“It’s always good to have competition. Peninsula [Airways]’s been a good airline over the years and still is. I have nothing disparaging to say about anybody. Just an alternative service here, I think the people of Bristol Bay are going to enjoy it, and it’s going to be a good thing,” Ball said.
Perhaps the best image on Wednesday of the competition passengers hoped to see was the PenAir terminal and Freshwater Adventures terminal in Dillingham, next door to one another, both busy with passengers traveling form Bristol Bay to Anchorage.