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Rural Alaska

Demise of RavnAir reduces rural Alaska’s medical transport options

Ravn airplanes are parked at the Palmer airport on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. RavnAir Group announced April 5 that the company would stop all operations and file for bankruptcy. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

BETHEL — The bankruptcy of RavnAir Group has left Alaska officials scrambling to provide transportation for rural patients in need of medical transport.

More than a dozen villages are still without regular air service weeks after RavnAir announced its bankruptcy, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Monday.

RavnAir Group cited the economic impact of the COVID-19 virus when it announced that the company would halt operations April 5, laying off staff and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Alaska's largest regional air carrier said it lost 90% of passenger revenue because of the pandemic. The decision affected the company's three airlines: RavnAir Alaska, PenAir and RavnAir Connect.

The state plans to use the National Guard to help transport coronavirus patients from communities. But the lack of reliable air service has placed a financial burden on rural health care providers that pay more for charter flights to transport patients.

"We are hoping and waiting to see the private industry step into the vacuum and serve the needs of the villages who have had reduced flight services into their communities," said Heidi Hedberg, Division of Public Health director for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

There are 18 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta without regular air service because RavnAir was the only passenger airline serving them.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. must now charter flights with other airlines to deliver medical supplies and bring patients to Bethel, the largest community in the region.

Chartering a flight can cost up to $1,000, although the price has not yet affected the corporation’s ability to move patients, corporation spokesperson Mitchell Forbes said.

“We’re not going to leave someone in a village and say, ‘We cannot bring you to necessary care because it’s too expensive,’” Forbes said.