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Delta performs Juneau test runs

Seasonal flights to Seattle will begin May 29

Posted: April 17, 2014 - 12:12am
A Delta Airlines Boeing 757 does a flyover of the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday. The first scheduled flight by Delta to Juneau from Seattle is on May 29.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
A Delta Airlines Boeing 757 does a flyover of the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday. The first scheduled flight by Delta to Juneau from Seattle is on May 29.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s some competition!

Delta pilots performed test flights at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday morning, preparing for the company’s summertime expansion to Juneau starting May 29. Delta will serve Juneau seasonally, flying in and out of the capital city until the end of August, company spokesman Anthony Black said.

Because Delta hasn’t flown in or out of Juneau in 19 years, airport deputy manager Marc Cheatham said, pilots needed to “make sure they get the lay of the land” before service starts again.

“This was their first run-through since they left,” he said.

The tests were “close to a touch-and-go,” Cheatham said, but not quite.

“They were more like missed approaches,” he said. “They came to the runway, hovered above the runway, and then lifted and accelerated up.”

The pilots needed to get the craft’s technology configured for takeoffs and landings in Juneau, Black said.

The tests are more than idle practice. Federal Aviation Administration rules require them, and Juneau is notorious among pilots for difficult takeoffs and landings. Wind funneled through area valleys and thick fog has contributed to accidents, including Alaska’s worst air disaster. That came in 1971, when an Alaska Airlines jet crashed into a mountain after misidentifying its location, killing all 111 people aboard. Juneau’s airport has modernized its navigation equipment since the accident, making flights safer and more reliable.

Delta will serve Juneau with a Boeing 757, rather than the previously planned 737, Cheatham said. The plane will make daily runs to Juneau, arriving in the evening, spending the night and leaving in the morning. Delta will provide one flight in the morning and one flight at night each day, he said.

The ticket counter will be right next to the one owned by Alaska Airlines, Cheatham said. Alaska, which has for years had a monopoly on the Seattle-Juneau route, is a partner of Delta, sharing a frequent flier mileage program and some flights. Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said in a previous Empire report that Delta’s expansion to Juneau will not affect the companies’ partnership.

“When it makes sense, we compete; in other places, we have a partnership,” Egan said in the article.

Cheatham said the airport is “excited Delta’s coming in.” Competition between the airlines will improve service to Juneau customers, he said.

“Competition is good, it’s good for the whole community,” he said. “It drives a price difference between the airlines. Now Alaska Airlines is giving double miles while Delta is operating here, and Delta is providing a lower price. It’s cheaper to travel out of Juneau and also to get back in.”

Delta will pay the city-owned airport $53,400 rent for terminal space and another $37,100 in landing fees.

To help with the increase in checked bags that will come, the airport is receiving a second Transportation Security Administration-funded baggage scanning machine, Cheatham said. “With all the bags that are going to be going through ... they should still be expedited as they were before,” he said.

The machine will arrive at the Juneau airport next month, in time for Delta’s return. It’s coming from another airport where it was being underutilized, Cheatham said. Juneau airport administrators, the airport board of directors and the airlines reached out to Alaska legislators and the TSA to ask for an additional machine, he said.

“Everybody kind of reached out to political figures,” he said. “We talked to the TSA and legislators and they agreed.”

If Delta does well in Juneau during the summers, it could expand service to year-round, Black said.

“We’re committed to the seasonal service and we’ll continue to monitor demand and the market and amend service as we see those opportunities come to fruition,” he said.

Delta’s plans for Juneau are part of a larger goal to expand the company’s national and international reach out of Seattle, as announced in early November 2013 with new flights from San Diego and Portland, Ore. Juneau customers will be linked with Asian and European destinations via the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Black said.

The company announced in December 2013 it will begin daily flights from Seattle to Fairbanks International Airport and Vancouver International Airport, also starting May 29. According to a Delta news release, the company currently operates 35 daily departures to 15 cities from Seattle.

Flights to and from Juneau are available now on the Delta website, delta.com.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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