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Sun, Oct 02, 2011

Questions Raised About Remote Alaskan Airport

Some Calling The $77 Million Project 'The Airport For No One'

An airport planned for a remote island between the Bearing Sea and the Pacific Ocean is being ridiculed by some as an "airport for no one," because it will be accessible only by helicopters or hovercraft.

Alaska DOT Map Showing Hovercraft Route

The $77 million project is planned for the isolated community of Akutan located near the end of the Aleutian Island chain, but the runway is not on the same island as the village. It will be separated from the people it serves by six miles of open water that is often described as "turbulent."

The cost of the planned airport is about $64 million, according to a report in the Alaska Dispatch, but the total cost of the project, which includes a hovercraft shuttle for passengers and airport workers adds $13 million, bringing the total price tag to $77 million. But officials are not sure that the hovercraft solution is practical, meaning that the airport would be accessible only by helicopter.

The runway would accommodate airplanes up to 40 passengers. Currently, the only access to Akutan is through a seaplane base, but the only aircraft that has been consistently reliable in terms of range and ability to handle the rough conditions is the Grumman Goose, which is becoming scarce and difficult to maintain. Peninsula Airways, the primary carrier into Akutan, says they won't be able to sustain the aircraft for much longer.

The primary employer in the region is a fish processing plant which has a seasonal workforce of as many as a thousand. The airport would help those workers get close, but not all the way to their jobs. The permanent population is about 100, according to CNN.

Peninsula Airways is currently the beneficiary of about $700,000 in subsidies through the Essential Air Service program. Company vice president Brian Carricaburu says that could be substantially reduced by using larger aircraft at the new airport.

FMI: http://dot.alaska.gov

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