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Air service ban strands travelers and fish

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Stuck on a mountaintop and running out of supplies, at least four people are still waiting for their flight to arrive.

Jim Wilson of Coastal Helicopters said the suspension of air service in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks goes beyond commerce and is a safety issue with several high-altitude maintenance workers.

All but federally approved emergency aircraft remained on the ground today, including Alaska Airlines planes flying to and from Juneau. The airline, which hoped to resume operations today, canceled all flights until further notice to give employees time to put new directives from the Federal Aviation Administration into effect.

The FAA and the Air Force allowed several dozen lifesaving flights in Alaska on Tuesday, officials said.

Wilson said several days ago his company flew four workers from Juneau to do routine mountaintop maintenance work for AT&T and Alaska Power and Telephone. They had enough supplies for two or three days and today marks their fourth day out. Wilson said he is trying to get the FAA to help.

"They are equipped to spend a night or two and they are staying inside the radio transmission or generator facilities," he said. "We've been trying to get authorization to go and get them but they just won't let us do it. And if weather closes in or it becomes overcast it's just not safe for them to try to walk down."

Wilson said the helicopter company also has been unable to get supplies to some of the camps and smaller communities it services.

"Alaska's not like other places. If we can't get there it means no medicine, no food," he said. "If we don't fly, nothing gets there."

Commercial air travelers are also feeling the effects of the lack of air service.

The Juneau Airport Travelodge and Frontier Suites Airport Hotel are offering discount rates for stranded passengers until the end of the week. Hotel managers said they had cancellations from people unable or unsure if they would get a flight into Juneau. Further, the managers said many current guests extended their stays.

When they leave, they will face changes at the Juneau Airport. FAA directives include mandates to stop curbside check-in of baggage, to allow only passengers beyond security checkpoints and to verify identification of all passengers at terminal gates, said Jack Evans of Alaska Airlines.

"It's one thing for the FAA to announce these directives, we have to make them happen," Evans said. "That involves training employees, it involves detailing what the directives require, making sure we understand clearly what they mean, what we need to do."

The airport terminal reopened this morning under heightened security. Cars are allowed only in long-term parking while the short-term lot and the curbside loading areas are closed indefinitely, said Patty DeLaBruere, airport spokeswoman.

The flight ban is also impacting a local fisheries businesses.

Taku Smokeries/Fisheries General Manager Eric Norman said even one day without flights hurts.

"We had 10,000 pounds of fresh fish today ready to be shipped out. We iced that back and we'll attempt it tomorrow," he said Tuesday. "If we can get them out by Thursday we should be all right. They're quite fresh and very good-looking fish right now. After that we'll have to freeze them and there is a much smaller market for frozen fish."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com and Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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