Helicopter service to Little Diomede Island halted

NOME — A government contract delay has halted transportation to and from Little Diomede Island, one of Alaska's most remote communities.

The weekly helicopter flights were suspended because a system of federal and state subsidies expired June 30 before the yearly reauthorization contract was signed, KNOM reported. Little Diomede is 2 1/2 miles from Big Diomede Island, Russia.

The service is contracted with Erickson Helicopters Inc. and subsidized annually at more than $337,000, with the federal and state governments each providing half that amount. Erickson pilot Mike Kutyba said passengers pay $400 for one-way flights to or from Nome and $200 for flights to or from the village of Wales.

The state portion of the funding is distributed by Kawerak Inc., a regional nonprofit corporation established by the Bering Straits Native Association.

Kawerak official Pearl Mikulski said she expects the contract to be settled soon. Kutyba said he is ready to fly as soon as he gets the word.

Little Diomede is 28 miles west of Wales. The helicopter service is part of a modified version of the Essential Air Service program set up in 1978.

Before the Little Diomede helicopter flights were subsidized, the situation was much worse, according to Rich Sewell, a planner with the Alaska Department of Transportation.

"Every time they sparked up that bird it was $10,000," he said. "So you can imagine, it got to the point it was pretty desperate out there."

Little Diomede's contract is renewed annually. Flights were halted for weeks last year while documents were being finalized.

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