This past weekend, Alaska Airlines touched down in Unalakleet, Alaska for the first time in 45 years.
With the start of this new route from Anchorage, which began on June 6, we’ll be providing cargo-only service to the community for the first time since the 1970s.
Located on the Norton Sound 395 miles northwest of Anchorage, Unalakleet is known for its salmon and king crab harvests. The town sits at the mouth of the Unalakleet River.
“Our airline plays a special role in the state of Alaska,” said Torque Zubeck, MD, cargo. “Similar to Nome, Bethel and Kotzebue, Unalakleet is a hub of activity for many of the small villages surrounding it. With the addition of freighter service, we’ll provide mail, groceries and needed supplies to a large group of people who live in western Alaska.
Unlike other destinations we serve, Unalakleet will be a cargo-only market served by our freighter aircraft. This will be the first destination in recent history where we only have cargo service and won’t transport passengers on a scheduled basis.
“Unalakleet is one of the largest cargo markets we didn’t serve in the state of Alaska,” said Jeff Olver, director, cargo operations for Seattle and the state of Alaska. “Along with it being a bypass mail market, we also get to work with existing customers, stores and produce companies to get fresh foods out to the communities in Unalakleet and the surrounding areas.” Additionally, summer also sees demand from the seafood industry meaning we expect to carry cargo out of Unalakleet as well as in.
Additionally, summer also sees demand from the seafood industry meaning we expect to carry cargo out of Unalakleet as well as in.
“Serving Unalakleet is unique for Alaska Airlines in that it is not a federally certified airport, so flight operations created additional processes to review all the parameters for safety and compliance in addition to our normal new airport processes that we typically do,” said Dennis S., flight ops regulations compliance & certification program manager.
The project team worked closely with the airport manager there prior to starting service.
As an example, the team reviewed that the runway exits right onto the ramp which is not very big so a lot of work was done to ensure our jet could fully exit the runway, safely park and not interrupt other operations.
Ryan Air will ground handle our aircraft in Unalakleet. Owned and operated by the Ryan family, Alaska Airlines’ relationship with the family has been in existence for four generations.
Alaska Airlines served Unalakleet from the 1950s to the 1970s. We even had a regional hub there in the 1950s.
In the 1940s, Frank Ryan of the Ryan family used to deliver passengers, cargo and mail between the villages of Unalakleet and Kaltag via sled dog in the winter and on foot during the summer. When Alaska Airlines began service to Unalakleet, Ryan was out of business.
In 1957 and 1958, Wilfred Ryan Sr., Frank Ryan’s son, flew the Norseman aircraft for Alaska Airlines, after serving in the military during World War II. Our operations thrived until February of 1975, when we were asked to stop flying to the Arctic by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB).
When we stopped serving Unalakleet, Wilfred Ryan Sr. started Unalakleet Air Taxi, which expanded under the leadership of his son, Wilfred Ryan Jr. The name was then changed to Ryan Air, Inc. and was operated as an Alaska commuter carrier in the late 1980s serving six communities from Anchorage.
Today, we still have a relationship with Ryan Air and the Ryan family. Since Ryan Air will be ground handling our freighters in Unalakleet, and with Lee Ryan now being president of the company, we’ve had four generations of the Ryan family work with Alaska Airlines in one way or another.