Alaska Airlines is retrofitting up to seven aircraft with more space to carry cargo in and out of Southeast Alaska.
While the airline hurries to finish the planes by March, cargo service has hit a low with just one plane dedicated to Juneau, compared to five in the past, said Eric Norman, manager at Taku Smokeries/Fisheries. Some cargo also travels on a mail plane.
Norman said his company holds back fish when he thinks Alaska cannot deliver on time.
"With fresh fish, there's no margin of error. It's got to move," Norman said.
Taku's alternative is to ship by boat with the fish packed in ice. It also sends smoked salmon through FedEx.
The larger Boeing 737-400 aircraft should provide some relief. The company is planning for one exclusive freighter and four passenger-cargo "combis" that could carry 70 passengers and four pallets.
Alaska has an option to retrofit a second freighter and a fifth combi.
The airline is phasing out its nine 737-200s, which carry about two pallets. Alaska's cargo manager, Matt Yerbic, expects the new planes to have 35 percent to 50 percent more capacity, depending on how many seats will remain in the aircraft.
Matt Yerbic, managing director of cargo at Alaska Airlines, said the demand for more cargo service in Southeast Alaska exists. This year fishery officials say demand is heavy in the Lower 48 for Alaska wild salmon.
During the summer, the airline flies between 20,000 and 30,000 pounds of seafood out of Juneau every day.
"We carry a little bit of everything out of Southeast Alaska," said Yerbic, including other food and the mail, as the company has a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to transport packages.
A subsidiary company of Pemco World Air Services will redesign the planes in Dothan, Ala. The airline said earlier the project will cost $15 million.
Alaska is also buying 35 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, with an option to acquire 15 more through 2011. The list price of the 35 jets is $2.3 billion.
The company intends to retire 39 planes; it has 109 total aircraft.
Andrew Petty can be reached at email@example.com
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