"Yes, we're thinking about it," a Ravn employee told me as I walked up to their booth at the Pacific Marine Expo. He noticed the "Public Radio for Bristol Bay" on my nametag.
Getting that officially "on tape" for an interview took a few phone calls, but Steve Hill got the go ahead to give this much:
"I just recently spoke with our new management team in Anchorage, and to confirm, they are telling me we are considering a number of new destinations in our home state of Alaska, including King Salmon, Dillingham and possibly even Dutch Harbor," Hill said.
Hill is Ravn Alaska's director of scheduling and planning, and admitted that question had come up a lot during the three-day event. Rumors have been circulating for months that Ravn, which flies scheduled service in many parts of the state — especially around Bethel — was looking to move into Bristol Bay.
Ravn is the parent company of a number of small airlines including Corvus, Era and Hageland. It also purchased Yute Air earlier this year.
PenAir, Bristol Bay and Dutch Harbor's primary — and often only — airline with service to Anchorage, went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy three months ago. That came after the company expanded its service in the Lower 48 and upgraded its Southwest Alaska fleet to Saab 2000s. There were fewer of the newer aircraft, and PenAir's customers in Southwest Alaska endured some of the lowest reliability rates in the company's history.
In April, CEO Danny Seybert swatted away rumors that he was pulling out of the region his dad had started the company in, but left out any reference to the financial woes.
"The five airplanes I bought, I made a $27 million investment into aviation in Bristol Bay and the Aleutians. That's a commitment, this is not some big company's money. This is me and my dad that came from Bristol Bay, so I'm here to stay. I have a commitment to aviation and I have a commitment to this community," he said.
Seybert also said he welcomed any competition that wanted to enter this market. Many customers told Seybert that is something they hope to see, believing it will bring more reliable service and a cheaper ticket.
Looking a week out from this deadline, a roundtrip ticket from Anchorage to Bethel on Ravn costs $366. Traveling on the same days from Anchorage to Dillingham on PenAir would cost a person $600.