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Alaska regional airlines forced to cut services and staff

Last Updated Mar 26, 2020 at 7:36 am PDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Some Alaska regional air carriers have cut services to communities and positions from their payrolls in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Alaska Public Media reported Wednesday that the cuts followed a March 20 appeal by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy for Alaska residents to stop non-essential travel.

Ravn Air, Alaska’s largest regional carrier that serves more than 100 communities, recently announced it would temporarily cut 146 of about 1,300 jobs.

The reduction is “due to a dramatic reduction in passenger bookings resulting from the recent arrival of the COVID-19 coronavirus,” the company said in a statement.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Tourism cancellations have hurt other small airlines that rely on spring travel revenue.

“All tour charters have been cancelled, so this time of year is typically fairly robust because now is peak season for Aurora viewing and particularly among international travellers, so those have gone away,” said Matt Atkinson, safety director for Warbelow’s Air.

The Fairbanks carrier also provides essential services including transporting telecommunications repair workers, medical evacuations and delivering fuel and mail.

Most villages in Warbelow’s service area have not instituted major restrictions and Atkinson remained hopeful the company will not be forced to announce layoffs.

Northwest Alaska carrier Bering Air announced a significantly reduced schedule Monday.

Only essential personnel and residents returning to villages will be allowed to travel following an emergency order by the Northwest Arctic Borough, Bering Air said.

Regional carriers hope to receive funds from an upcoming federal stimulus package. Atkinson’s work with the Alaska Air Carriers Association enabled him to contact Alaska’s congressional delegation to push for $50 billion in air carrier funding, he said.

The national Regional Airlines Association asked for support to maintain the federal Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes flight service to about 60 Alaska communities.

The Associated Press