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Dispute over mail delivery keeps new Aleutians airport idle

Akutan has a new airport, but it's miles from the town -- and on a different Aleutian island. A hovercraft is set to transport air passengers and cargo between Akutan and its airport, but the switchover is on hold while the U.S. Postal Service, the Alaska Department of Transportation and airlines bidding on the USPS mail contract sort out the details of who'll pay for what, reports KUCB.

The issue is that the new airport is on an island seven miles away from the village and is accessible only via hovercraft. [Grant Aviation COO Austin] Engebretson says that distinction is lost on the U.S. Postal Service and consequently, if awarded the contract,  Grant would be required to deliver mail to the village, even though their planes land on a different island. 

“And that would require us to ship the mail, on the hovercraft, at our expense, to the village of Akutan. The mail rate is roughly $0.50 per pound -- that’d be what we get paid to haul it to the airport. The rough estimates that we’ve gotten from the hovercraft are $1 per pound to ship it across the bay. So for every pound of mail we would transport, we would take a 50-cent loss. And that’s just no way to do business.”

A state DOT representative told KUCB that hovercraft costs could be included in the bids, but Engebretson says he's been told the USPS won't accept that. 

Read more at KUCB: Mail dispute keeps Akutan airport idle