Alaska customer service agents Heidi Tokar (left) and Julie Bilbey (right), of Bethel, are dressed in a typical winter-weather gear for this remote area of Alaska.
Meet Bethel, Alaska. The town is located about 340 miles west of Anchorage and about 40 miles inland from the Bering Sea. There are only ten miles of paved roads and none connect to any highway. Roads made of ice and snow mobile trails are what connect to over 50 Native Alaskan villages in the region.
With the lack of solid ground transportation, aviation is very important to the town of less than 6,000 people. Even though the population is small, it is a major hub for air travel in the state. “It may be little, but it’s mighty,” says Christine Klein, Deputy Commissioner of Aviation for the state of Alaska. Aviation is a much larger part of the economy in Alaska than other states, accounting for one in every 10 jobs in the state and $3.5 billion in revenue.
Bethel Airport (BET) is the third busiest airport in the state, behind Fairbanks and Anchorage. The airport has two runways: One is paved and 6400 feet in length (for comparison, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s largest runway is almost 12,000 feet long) and one that is gravel and only 1,860 feet long.
Signage at Bethel Airport
From June 2006 to June 2007, the airport had 122,000 aircraft operations, which is an average of 334 per day. During that time, there were 232 airplanes based at the airport: 90% single engine, 7% multi-engine, 2% helicopters and 1% military. Now, that is a lot of aviation for a town so far out in the middle of nowhere.
Alaska Airlines, who have 27 employees at the airport, proudly has a strong relationship with Bethel and the surrounding area. They fly round-trip flights between Bethel and Anchorage three times per day using their Boeing 737-400′s and Combis. Alaska Airlines provides important connections for passengers and cargo for Bethel residents and the rest of the world.
Alaska Airlines does much more than just fly in and out of the airport. The airline also supports local aviation and promotes careers in aviation. Recently the airline donated $15,000 to the Yuut Yaqungviat Flight School, which will will help local residents, the majority of whom are Native Alaskans, obtain their pilot, airframe and power plant mechanic licenses.
Founded in 2000, the flight school has a high placement rate for students who complete the two-year private pilot certificate program. Of 25 students who finished the program, 16 are actively working as pilots for Yute Air, Grant Aviation, Frontier Alaska, Hageland Aviation and other airlines. “Historically, a revolving door of professionals leave the Bethel area. This outmigration is a loss of potential revenue for the region,” says John Amik, co-director of the school. He continued, “Yuut Yaqungviat has helped young adults capture a sense of purpose, hope and self-respect.”
Alaska is hoping this assistance will not only help Native Alaskans find careers in aviation, but also help them get jobs with Alaska Airlines. “We would very much like to see more Native Alaskan pilots working their way into our cockpits,” said Bill MacKay, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president.
If you live in an area where Alaska Airlines doesn’t fly: It is based out of Seattle, WA, flies over 115 Boeing 737′s to about 90 destinations in the US and Mexico, and of course has quite a few flights to Alaska. If you are interested in connecting with Alaska Airlines, be sure to follow their Twitter, Facebook or YouTube channel.
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Images from Alaska Airlines