For the first time since 737 jet service ended, Unalaskans will be flying to Anchorage in a larger and faster aircraft.
Later this year, PenAir will take delivery of three Saab 2000 aircraft. PenAir has been operating the 30-seat Saab 340 aircraft for 15 years in its Alaska markets, and since 2012 in its Northeast U.S. markets.
"In cooperation with Alaska Airlines, we are thrilled to be able to operate a newer, faster and larger aircraft on the routes we fly for them in Alaska under our codeshare relationship," said PenAir CEO Danny Seybert.
The Saab 2000 is a 54-seat aircraft that will be modified for flying in Alaska in a 45-seat configuration. "This new seating configuration will be comparable to the leg space that most narrow-body jet carriers offer their first-class passengers," said Seybert.
The new aircraft will initially be used on the 28 weekly flights between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, which PenAir currently operates on behalf of Alaska Airlines. Under this arrangement, PenAir operates and maintains the aircraft, while Alaska schedules and sells tickets on the flights.
The Saab 340 operates at 250 knots/290 mph, whereas the Saab 2000 will fly faster at 375 knots/430 mph.
"A typical flight to Dutch Harbor/Unalaska on the Saab 2000 will take nearly 45 minutes less to complete than the Saab 340," said Andrew Harrison, senior vice president of planning and revenue management for Alaska Airlines.
"Our customers will enjoy arriving to their destination faster in the modern Saab 2000, which also has the added benefit of offering 20 percent more baggage capacity than the Saab 340, " Harrison said.
PenAir will take delivery of the first Saab 2000 by midsummer, with the other two aircraft to follow before the end of the year.
About 15 years ago, Alaska Airlines stopped flying Boeing 737s into Unalaska because of excessive weather-related cancelations. The jets made the trip to Anchorage in about two hours, faster than the Saab 340, which takes about three hours.