Alaska Seaplanes is helping form a new airline, Aleutian Airways, which will serve the Anchorage- Unalaska route beginning soon. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Alaska Seaplanes is helping form a new airline, Aleutian Airways, which will serve the Anchorage- Unalaska route beginning soon. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Juneau-based airline expands to Southwest Alaska under new flag

The focus is initially going to be on a single service route.

Alaska Seaplanes, partnered with a number of other companies, will launch a new service from Anchorage to Unalaska beginning in the fall.

Aleutian Airways is a joint venture between Seaplanes, Wexford Capital and Mckinley Alaska Private Investment, according to a recent news release from Seaplanes.

“Our main operations here won’t change. But it’s a new exciting part of our portfolio,” said Seaplanes marketing manager Andy Kline in a phone interview. “We think there’s an opportunity to provide good service out there, service that the people will prefer. That’s what we hope.”

The company will be flying the Saab 2000, a turboprop airliner from Swedish defense manufacturer Saab. The aircraft and many of the flight and support personnel will come from recently dissolved airline PenAir, Kline said.

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“Ravn [Alaska] is out there right now and they fly. But the Saab 2000 is a bigger and faster airplane than what’s out there right now,” Kline said. “Our research indicated they were the most capable planes for the route.”

Seaplanes’ role in operations will be largely back-office functions while Sterling Airways, a Wexford subsidiary, flies and maintains the aircraft, said Seaplanes President Kent Craford in a phone interview.

“We know how to work with communities in rural Alaska and that’s what we’ve done for 25 years. And Sterling knows how to capably fly large aircraft. It’s the best of both worlds,” Craford said. “Our job is really in the back office. Sterling will be employing most of the folks in Anchorage. They’ll be doing the day to day operations.”

Kent Craford, president of Alaska Seaplanes, is co-owner of a new joint venture, Aleutian Airways, which will serve the Anchorage- Unalaska route in Southwest Alaska. (Courtesy photo / Alaska Seaplanes)

Kent Craford, president of Alaska Seaplanes, is co-owner of a new joint venture, Aleutian Airways, which will serve the Anchorage- Unalaska route in Southwest Alaska. (Courtesy photo / Alaska Seaplanes)

The western expansion is in line with Seaplanes’ corporate desire to expand within the state, focusing on serving the smaller communities, Craford said.

“We’ve transformed our fleet in the last 10 years into the largest fleet of turbine commuter aircraft in Southeast Alaska,” Craford said. “It’s a lot of what we’ve learned in the Southeast that we’re taking into the Southwest with Aleutian.”

The Saab 2000 allows for superior performance in the technically demanding Anchorage-Unalaska route, Craford said, which measures just under 800 miles in straight-line flight. The Saab’s fuel capacity allow for the aircraft to make the flight in one hop without a stop for refueling, Craford said.

“[Unalaska has] a short runway, it’s an incredibly long distance, and alternate runways are far away. [The aircraft] also has to be fast enough to outrun the weather. Weather out there changes at a moment’s notice,” Craford said. “It’s a huge comparative advantage with the currently scheduled service.”

The expansion will not affect operations for Seaplanes customers in the Southeast, Craford said. Aleutian airlines will release flight schedules in the coming month, Craford said.

“We’re not looking to go all over the state. We’re not looking to go to Tokyo or Seoul,” Craford said. “We’re looking to fly to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and get really dialed in, to focus.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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