PenAir's bigger and faster commuter plane drew a big crowd to the Unalaska airport last week, with about 200 local residents taking a close look at the Saab 2000, which can carry more passengers and get to Anchorage more quickly than previous aircraft used on that route, according to spokeswoman Missy Roberts.
The new planes are already in service on an unscheduled basis, but starting May 27 all flights between Anchorage and Unalaska/Dutch Harbor will use the larger aircraft.
In the Bristol Bay market, the new planes will complement the smaller aircraft, which will continue to serve Dillingham and the Bristol Bay Borough. The 2000s will start scheduled service in Bristol Bay in early to mid-June, Roberts said. The 2000s won't be used on all Bristol Bay flights, but several daily flights will employ the new planes, she said.
The May 6 event in Unalaska featured a new plane filled with VIPs from throughout the region who were picked up at stops in Dillingham and King Salmon, Roberts said. The very important passengers included Native organization leaders, and PenAir top officials including company president Danny Seybert and his father and airline founder Oren Seybert.
Roberts said PenAir is now operating three 2000s, and two more of the leased aircraft will arrive soon.
For the past 15 years, PenAir has been operating the 30-seat Saab 340 aircraft 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 Danny Seybert last year.
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," Seybert said.
The new aircraft will initially be utilized on all flights between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, which PenAir 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.
About 15 years ago, Alaska Airlines stopped flying Boeing 737s into Unalaska because of excessive weather-related cancellations. The jets made the trip to Anchorage in about two hours, faster than the Saab 340, which takes about three hours. Anchorage is 792 miles from Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, according to Alaska Airlines' mileage chart.
This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.