Alaska to fly to Red Dog

transportation.jpg Cominco Inc. Red Dog Mine officials, worried about the beleaguered condition of Reeve Aleutian Airways Inc., have given the contract for the mine’s crew-change flights to Alaska Airlines.

"After Reeve announced that they were liquidating the airline, we had to do something," said Jerry Koon, supervisor for materials management and surface operations at the mine.

Alaska Airlines will serve the mine, nestled in the hills north of the Noatak River in Northwest Alaska, with three flights weekly starting Jan. 23. Tuesday flights will be for passengers only, using a Boeing 737-200 aircraft with 111 seats. The two other flights will be in a combination freight and passenger configuration.

"It’s a delight to have the contract back," said Joe Sprague, statewide sales manager for Alaska Airlines. "Red Dog has a very bright future, and we are glad to partner with such a fine company."

Alaska Airlines had the contract for weekly flights but lost out to Reeve in 1997 over a lower bid for services. Reeve operated the year to year contract since 1997, and RAA officials were under the impression that they would operate the contract for 2001.

During Reeve’s tenure as Cominco’s carrier the mine site airport was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for global positioning system approaches, which were pioneered by RAA. The airport also has distance measuring equipment to assist in traditional instrument flight rule landings.

"Reeve gave us excellent service, and we really enjoyed our relationship with their folks, but it wasn’t coming together with their management," Koon added.

The contract for service was put out for bid late last year, according to Koon, before Reeve announced its intentions to curtail scheduled flights and liquidate the airline.

Reeve officials could not be reached by the Journal.

"Alaska came in with a good package and we are really happy that they have the aircraft to make as many flights as we may need due to weather conditions up here," Koon added.

Koon, responsible for warehouse, maintenance, surface transportation and barge operations at the mine, is also the airport manager for Red Dog’s 6,000-foot gravel airstrip, "Pilots tell us this is the best gravel strip in Alaska," Koon said.

After working with Reeve for several months in an effort to create an aviation department by buying RAA’s two Boeing 727-200 combi aircraft, Cominco officials were unable to work out a solution with Reeve. "We couldn’t find an airline operator to take over maintenance and technical details, so we dropped the idea of buying their jets and decided to contract with Alaska Airlines," Koon said.

Reeve’s two Boeing 727 aircraft are not Stage Three equipped, for noise abatement, and cannot be flown in the continental United States, Canada or Europe on scheduled service, limiting their use to Alaska or Third World countries.

Red Dog mine has 775 people connected with operations and construction of a $100 million upgrade to enlarge the mine and its facilities. The mine has 420 employees that change shifts weekly, along with NANA/Lynden and NANA Management Inc. employees and other construction contractors.

Northern Air Cargo and Lynden also frequently operate freight and oversize cargo flights to the mine, according to Koon. The Alaska Airlines contract may affect NAC’s frequencies to the mine, but Lynden, which lifts unusual and large shipments, will not be affected, he said.

Reeve officials had earlier indicated that they would continue to operate weekly flights to the Red Dog Mine and to Shemya on charter flights after curtailing scheduled service in December 2000.

"It’s a shame to see this happen but due to their announcement, they left us no choice," said Koon.

01/20/2001 - 8:00pm