Ravn Air’s Bankruptcy Is Affecting Rural Alaskan Communities

In a message dated May 27th and posted to its official website, Ravn Air announced that the US Bankruptcy Court had approved the airline’s liquidation of assets. The regional Alaskan carrier filed for Chapter 11 protection on April 5th, 2020, following a 90% drop in bookings and revenue due to the arrival of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the company and its services were critical for many remote communities in Alaska.

Ravn Air has been granted permission to proceed with the sale of its assets. Photo: Nathan Coats via Wikimedia Commons

Grocery deliveries and more grounded

According to 570 News, residents of some remote arctic villages were unable to receive their grocery orders as a result of Ravn Air’s shutdown. This was the case for Atqasuk resident and tribal-coordinator Millie Frankson, who had a $535 order that was supposed to be flown in.

Instead, Frankson had to drive two hours on a makeshift road across the ice to reach the city of Utqiagvik, where her purchase was stored. Commenting on the fact that this is not always possible, Frankson said, “I was lucky enough that the ice road was still open,” adding “[Ravn’s closure] was just a big shock to the whole North Slope Borough. Like, how are we gonna get our food, our mail, our medical needs?” Indeed, the supply chain of remote Alaska is heavily reliant on air travel, delivering everything from building supplies and car parts to everyday groceries and mail.

With only a few hours notice, Ravn had shut down its operations on April 4th, catching many of its customers off-guard. With the airline grounded, more than 115 Alaskan communities were left in a difficult place, having had little to no time to make other arrangements. In fact, 570 News reports that nearly all the communities are accessible only by plane or boat as 82% lack road connections, according to the state’s transportation agency. Furthermore, for about 20 villages, RavnAir was their sole air service provider.

RavnAir Route map
Ravn Air’s route map before it suspended operations. Photo: Ravn Air

Scrambling for a solution

The early-April shutdown of Ravn Air left many people across Alaska scrambling to find a replacement service for passenger and cargo transportation. Community leaders, the U.S. Postal Service, and other local air carriers moved in to ensure passengers and essential freight would get to the remote villages of Alaska.

“I was impressed with the leadership, and just how adaptable we were in a couple days,” said U.S. Postal Service representative David Rupert to 570 News.

In the immediate aftermath of Ravn’s shutdown, villages took quick action wherever possible. The Native Village of Deering provided additional fuel and ammunition to its residents so that they could hunt for wildlife in the event that cargo shipments were delayed. Similarly, another village requested emergency permits to hunt deer and moose out of season in case of supply delays.

Ravn Air’s served 20 remote communities exclusively. Photo: Quintin Soloviev via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been nearly two months since Ravn’s departure from the market, and many villages have found ways to cope and/or recover from the sudden disruption. Much of this has relied on other operators taking on much larger loads while still ensuring they have the necessary equipment to safely perform their duties.

It used to be 25,000 to 30,000 pounds would get moved out of Bethel on a busy day. “A couple weeks ago, they moved 87,000 pounds of mail in one day,” – Rob Kelley, president of Grant Aviation

The fate of Ravn Air

While a small note on Ravn Air’s sale page says, “If Ravn is successful in finding a buyer, it intends to resume operations later this summer,” no news has surfaced of such a deal coming forward. With last week’s Bankruptcy Court approval for liquidation, it seems like we might be seeing the last of Ravn Air.

It’s possible that other regional Alaskan operators could scoop up some of those assets and expand their offerings. However, with the pandemic still firmly active, it’s too soon to tell.

Have you ever flown Ravn Air? Or any regional Alaskan airline? Let us know in the comments.