Federal officials trying to accomodate Bush Alaska's aviation needs

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Federal Aviation Administration is trying to make provisions for some flights into Alaska's Bush country despite a national ban on civilian air travel, an official said.

This comes after a decision by the FAA to leave in place a grounding of all commercial and civilian flights on Tuesday after terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

Civilian flights had been expected to resume Wednesday, but the FAA instead extended that restriction. State officials were concerned the order could create hardships for remote villages dependent on flights for food and other essential supplies and hunters waiting for transportation out of the Bush.

"We're acutely aware of the needs and are working with the folks in headquarters to come up with a solution for the Alaska situation," said Joette Storm, of the FAA in Anchorage.

Following the grounding, the FAA and the Air Force allowed a total of 30 lifesaving flights in Alaska on Tuesday, Storm said. Each flight was approved on a case-by-case basis. State officials said 55 such missions were flown, including an Air National Guard C-130 flight to Seattle carrying 500 blood samples for future blood donations.

An Army National Guard helicopter also searched Mount Roberts near Juneau on Tuesday for a 79-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer's disease who walked away from a cruise ship on Monday, said Maj. Mike Haller of the Alaska Division of Emergency Services. That search was suspended Wednesday.

Rescue workers also continued a search for the grandson of former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill. His boat capsized Friday on the Tanana River about 60 miles west of Fairbanks. Michael Coghill, 26, of Nenana, remained missing Tuesday.

Medical transports were also conducted in Ketchikan and Fairbanks, Haller said.

State officials have talked to villages to assess how critical their supply situation is, Haller said. None reported supply shortages, he said.

State officials would continue talks with the FAA to make accommodations for some flights, said Bob King, Gov. Tony Knowles press secretary.

"I don't think allowing a number of these Bush flights is going to threaten national security," King said. "It doesn't pose the same concerns as opening the mainline air traffic system."

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta had ordered commercial air traffic grounded until at least Wednesday. The grounding applied not only to major commercial aircraft but to air taxis, charter flights and even hunting and fishing guides.

Knowles expressed concern over the flight ban Tuesday since many remote areas of Alaska are only accessible by air.

FAA officials in Alaska are trying to craft exceptions to the national grounding to accommodate people in these remote areas, Storm said.

"We're all Alaskans and we know just how important aviation is," Storm said.



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