Adak jet service thrown into limbo

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have put Evergreen International Airlines Inc.’s plans to provide jet service to Adak and the Russian Far East in a tailspin.

Evergreen in July was awarded a $1.5 million annual subsidy by the federal Department of Transportation to provide twice weekly cargo and passenger jet service to Adak, under the condition the airline would purchase a Boeing 727-100 combi or similar airplane by mid-November.

Evergreen officials said the two-year subsidy intended solely for Adak would help underwrite service to the Russian Far East scheduled to begin early next year.

The problem for Evergreen now is that airlines have been prohibited from flying cargo in the bellies of passenger aircraft under a new rule by the Federal Aviation Administration put in place immediately after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

In other words, the federal government is requiring the company to fly both passengers and cargo in the same airplane, but new rules prevent that from happening.

"It’s a Catch-22," said Greg Thies, Evergreen’s director of marketing in Anchorage.

The company was set to lease an airplane that would meet the requirements of Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program, said Christina Wallace, Evergreen’s director of sales in Alaska.

But then came the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

"It takes a lot of coordination to bring something like this on line, and everybody here has been going full bore," said Wallace of coordinating flights to Aleutian Island communities and the Russian Far East. "Sept. 11 put everyone back a step, not just in aviation. For us it’s added another hill to climb.

"We are not going to lease an airplane we can’t fly," Wallace said.

Exactly what the company will do next is yet to be determined.

"It’s still up in the air," Wallace said. "We’ve done everything we can do. Right now, we’re on hold."

Evergreen and other airlines in Alaska are hopeful of some congressional help to, among other things, allow cargo and passengers on the same airplane.

Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, authored an amendment that would give the secretary of Transportation the authority to waive any of FAA’s new restrictions, given the noncontinental states’ uniqueness and inordinately high dependence on air travel.

The Adak flights could be the poster child for the amendment to the Aviation Security Bill, which passed the Senate on Oct. 11.

The House version of the bill has yet to be addressed and may not be until after the first of next year, according to aides in Republican Rep. Don Young’s Washington, D.C., office.

Meanwhile, the communities of Adak and Cold Bay are being served.

Peninsula Airways Inc. is providing passenger service to the Aleutian Island communities, under an interim federal award of about $4,000 weekly in its turbo-prop airplane. Evergreen is being paid roughly $7,000 for each of its cargo flights with its DC-9 cargo jet.

Evergreen still hopes to provide Adak and nearby Cold Bay with two one-stop round-trips a week to Anchorage, year-round, under the terms of the federal contract.

Whatever happens, Evergreen will not leave the Aleutian Island communities out in the cold, Evergreen officials said.

"We are not going to abandon anybody in Adak or Cold Bay, period," Thies said.

11/04/2001 - 8:00pm