Bering Air Will Carry Mail, Ryan Air Looks To Expand As RAVN Air Shuts Its Doors

Ravn passengers can now fly directly to Kotzebue from Anchorage and back. Photo Credit: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2017).

Airlines in the Bering Strait Region and their employees are working to cover the services formerly provided by RAVN Air, who announced they were grounding all flights and filing bankruptcy earlier this week (on Sunday).

Unlike in some other parts of the state, RAVN Air isn’t the only passenger and cargo flight service in the Bering Strait Region. However, neither Bering Air nor Ryan Air have immediate plans to expand their operations in the region just yet.

Lee Ryan, President of Ryan Air, says the biggest initial impact from Ravn’s absence is covering the mail service. He explains that bypass mail regulations require passenger operators, like RAVN Air, to be the main postal carriers.

“Most of the extra stuff that we are flying is the initial move of product from RAVN when they shut their doors, to kind of get the post office caught up.”

Bering Air’s Director of Operations David Olson did not want his voice recorded for this story, but he did confirm that Bering Air is taking up the majority of mail that RAVN Air was carrying. He assured residents outside of Nome that when it comes to receiving their mail, “no one will know the difference.”

The impacts medically are minimal, as Norton Sound Hospital Corporation says they already relied on Bering Air to supply their medical shipments to village clinics.

A bush plane is unloaded in the community of Savoonga. Photo from JoJo Phillips, KNOM (2020)

But that isn’t to say that the region is unaffected by Ravn’s closure. Alex Sampson is the Assistant Manager at the Shaktoolik Native Store. He says RAVN Air was their main carrier for local food shipments. While Sampson says they’ve been getting everything they need through Bering Air, it has been slower. Groceries run out, he says, and fly off the shelves as soon as they’re re-stocked.

In terms of job loss, all RAVN Air staff in Nome and Unalakleet have been laid off until the airline completes its bankruptcy proceedings and potentially rehires them back.
Meanwhile, Ryan Air’s President, Ryan says his airline is analyzing its potential to expand in the Bering Strait Region.

“I can’t guarantee that all jobs will be replaced, which is horrible, but I believe there will be some capacity for hiring in both the Unalakleet and in the Nome market…”

Ryan says he didn’t have the data available yet to give an estimate of how many new hires could potentially join Ryan Air and where they would go. He says the airline is already expanding its services out of St. Mary’s and Aniak where they’ve analyzed a greater need.

Bering Strait residents may notice RAVN’s disappearance even more, once regularly scheduled passenger service begins to resume and travelers are left without another airline to compare routes and pricing.

In the meantime, Bering Air is operating reduced passenger services and requiring all passengers to abide by individual community restrictions while travel bans due to the coronavirus are ongoing.

Image at top: An airplane with Ravn Air unloading its cargo in a Bering Strait community. Photo from Davis Hovey, KNOM (2017).