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Local Air Carrier To Begin Scheduled Passenger Service In Bush Alaska

May 14, 2013|By Samantha Angaiak | Channel 2 News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A local air carrier will once again offer passenger service in Bush Alaska after switching to cargo-only flights in the wake of deadly crash more than 25 years ago.

In mid-May, Ryan Air announced that it will schedule passenger services to remote areas of the state.

Wilfred Ryan Sr. started the air service under the name of "Unalakleet Air Taxi" in 1953 and the business is currently run by Wilfred Ryan, Jr.

After seeing many changes over the last 60 years, the company will begin scheduled passenger service to six rural communities including: Kalskag, Russian Mission, Holy Cross, Anvik and Shageluk.

As Ryan Air readies itself for more options for communities in rural Alaska, it's also a time of reflection for those who have been connected to the family-owned company during its toughest times.

Lee Ryan, Vice President and chief pilot of Ryan Air, says he was just a kid on November 23, 1987 when an overloaded Beech 1900 plane crashed near Homer, killing 16 people and leaving 3 seriously injured.

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"Throughout the 80s, we did have an unfortunate past just like a lot of other people and inherently, aviation is like the sea - it's dangerous," Ryan said.

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily suspended operations for the commuter airline during the eight months following the accident for a safety review.

"'87 was a tough period, that time frame was tough and for our company, our family and many families affected," Ryan said.

But Ryan says safety options for pilots have increased significantly since the crash.

"'87 was a different kind of culture and aviation in Alaska was the 'bush mentality,'" Ryan said.

With new safety systems in place, Ryan says the company is fully-prepared to offer scheduled passenger service to rural communities.

Locals, who are about to see more opportunities in their communities, say they're excited to see the new service.

Jason Moen, an instructional leader for Russian Mission School, says he flies frequently, and looks forward to having more than one option.

"It can't be a bad thing for the people to have another option or another alternative for getting to and from Kalskag and Aniak," Moen said.

The Ryan family says they're anxious for the carrier to open a new chapter.

"We're excited for a new operation in 2013, whereas it's been done before and lessons learned is something that's very important," Ryan said.

Contact Samantha Angaiak

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