Rural Alaska

Bethel-based Yute Air shuts down suddenly

 

The Bethel-based regional air carrier Yute Air shut down over the weekend, leaving 25 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta with one less option for air travel.

In an email, the company cited "marketplace challenges" as the reason for its abrupt closure, but did not elaborate.

"We are saddened to tell you that Yute Air has shut down," the company posted on its Facebook page Saturday.

All of us at Yute Air would like to thank the people of the YK Delta for your business over the years. We are saddened...

Posted by Yute Air on Saturday, March 4, 2017

Yute Air had been flying in Western Alaska since the 1960s, wrote operations manager Dan Knesek in an email. Until this weekend, it flew regularly scheduled passenger service to 25 villages in the region, transporting about 1,000 passengers every week.

Yute served villages in the vast Y-K Delta region, from Platinum to Tununak to Pilot Station. Regional air carriers that fly in and out of roadless villages are knit tightly into the fabric of everyday life in rural Alaska. People get freight and mail and even pizzas delivered on the flights, visit friends and relatives and travel for everything from doctor's appointments to school basketball games. Yute Air even posted baby announcements on its Facebook page, handing out onesies that said "First Flight" to Y-K Delta newborns.

The air carriers become part of the communities they serve, said Carl Kiyuna, who worked for Yute Air in Kipnuk.

"It's an everyday thing. I'll really miss them a lot," he said.

The closure of Yute Air means the loss of about 50 jobs in the region, according to the company. Many of those jobs were at Yute's headquarters in Bethel. The company also employed "village agents" in communities from Atmautluak to Marshall.

Rose Williams was one of Yute's village agents for about three years in Akiak, a community of about 350 people on the Kuskokwim River. Village agents communicated with pilots about weather, picked up and dropped off passengers and dealt with freight and bypass mail, she said. Williams said the job paid well and she was glad to have it. But on Saturday she got a call around lunchtime from the company telling her they "were no longer flying," Williams said.

"No warning or heads up," she said. "It just came out of the blue."

None of the villages served by Yute will be without any regularly scheduled flight services, Knesek wrote in an email. But there will be fewer options.

In its Facebook announcement, Yute Air said tickets that passengers had already paid for could be used for Ravn Air flights. Ravn will offer new flight routes to Napaskiak, Napakiak, Goodnews Bay and Platinum starting this weekend, according to the statement.

But people in the region are worried that less competition will mean higher ticket prices in an already expensive market.

Carl Kiyuna of Kipnuk was also a Yute Air village agent.

"Ticket prices are going to go up," he said. "That's what people are worrying about."

It already costs $180 for a one-way ticket to Bethel, he said.

In Goodnews Bay, where Annie Bright was a village agent, people who need to fly will have to rely on the new Ravn flight routes.

Even before Yute Air folded, the price tag for a one-way ticket to Bethel was around $225, Bright said.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a reporter who covers news and features about life in Alaska, and has been focusing on corrections and psychiatric care issues in the state. Contact her at mtheriault@adn.com.

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