Bald Mountain Air Service, a Homer tour and flight service company, plans to provide scheduled and charter flights in Southcentral Alaska starting either in late May or early June, owner Gary Porter announced in a press release on April 16.
Using its new Viking Dash 400 Twin Otter 19-passenger propeller plane, Bald Mountain will fly from Homer to Anchorage, Valdez, Naknek and Kodiak. Bald Mountain has its Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly and has started training. Departures will be from the Bald Mountain Air Hangar at the Homer Airport next to the main terminal.
Started in 1993, Bald Mountain Air has been one of Homer’s major bear sight seeing touring companies. It also does wildland firefighting support and serves the oil industry on the North Slope.
With Homer’s only previous commuter flight service, Ravn Air, having stopped service and declared bankruptcy due to a loss of revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic, Bald Mountain seeks to fill the void. Ravn’s departure created a challenge for other small airlines wishing to fill the loss of service: It holds what are called 121 airline certificates that allow more flights a day and week. Most other certificates are for flights of nine passengers or less.
“We’re kind of in the middle of that,” Porter said. “We’re 10 or more. We can operate, but we’re held to the published schedule of four times a week.”
Bald Mountain is asking the FAA to let it run four times a week with scheduled flights. It then could run chartered flights as an additional option. Flights would run between Homer and Anchorage at 10:30 a.m. or 12:30 p.m., Porter said. Another option might be to do a Homer-Anchorage flight four times a week, a Homer-Kenai-Anchorage flight four times a week, or a Homer-Anchorage-Valdez flight four times a week.
“In other words, mix it up so we’re not doing the same route,” Porter said.
The Viking Dash 400 Twin Otter is the next generation of the de Havilland 300 series Twin Otter, the workhorse of Alaska’s short-range Bush commuter fleet. Originally built for short take-off and landings, the Twin Otter fell out of favor as villages put in longer airstrips. Porter said that other than oil companies with their own Twin Otters, Bald Mountain Air is one of the few companies left flying Twin Otters. Viking bought manufacturing rights to the Twin Otter from de Havilland in 2018.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the national and Alaska airline industry. How the world and the airline industry recovers from the pandemic creates a lot of questions and challenges for Bald Mountain Air’s entry into the commuter market. Porter thinks eventually people will want to travel.
“There’s a fair number of folks that have business in Anchorage and points beyond in Alaska,” Porter said. “At a certain time in this coronavirus deal it’s going to be necessary that they move, that they travel. We’ll see how the demand escalates as people go back to work. … We’ll see how much a need there is for this once this virus thing settles down.”
Bald Mountain Air still plans to do bear viewing tours this summer, but like others in the tourism industry, it has lost business.
“We’re like everybody else — the tourist industry has been hit really hard,” Porter said. “We’ve got tremendous cancellations. July doesn’t look too bad. As this stretches on, we’ll see what happens as more and more people cancel. As they (public health officials) start releasing the travel restrictions, we’ll see. We’re still holding our breath to see what happens.”
Bald Mountain Air hasn’t set pricing yet for its flights, but Porter said it would probably be more than Ravn’s rates.
“We’ll look at it. We know what our operating costs are,” he said. “We don’t want to be like Ravn and upset everybody and go out of business.”
Porter said once the schedules get approval and he has worked out the details he will make another announcement. Bald Mountain Air also is in the process of updating its website at http://www.baldmountainair.com.
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.