Kenai Aviation planning scheduled flight service this spring
Kenai is getting a third option for scheduled flights to Anchorage. Kenai Aviation, which currently does on-demand charter flights and flight training, plans to start offering daily service between Kenai and Anchorage starting this spring, with additional service between Anchorage and Homer and Valdez.
Joel Caldwell is director of operations for Kenai Aviation. He said the goal has always been to start scheduled service alongside charters, though the pandemic grounded those plans.
"This is a new thing to everybody else as we announce it," he said. "But for us, this is something that we have been planning since even before we bought Kenai Aviation.”
Kenai Aviation has roots as a charter service for oil companies flying workers from Kenai to the North Slope. It’s based near the airport on North Willow Street.
The Caldwells bought the operation in 2018. And they’ve been expanding since then.
In March 2020, they bought a nine-seater Beechcraft Super King Air to do on-demand charter flights, alongside a five-seater Cessna that it uses for smaller groups.
Joel – who’s also a captain for Alaska Airlines – said one of their most popular routes is to Dutch Harbor. Fishing companies will charter plans to fly their employees back and forth.
Kenai Aviation also trains pilots in its flight school. Today, it has eight airplanes, most of which it uses for training. It has a staff of four full-time pilots and four part-time pilots.
Joel said they plan to hire a larger staff and will buy a second nine-seater plane to start, though he won’t say yet what kind of plane it is.
His son, Jacob Caldwell, who’s the company’s chief dispatcher, said they’ll keep ticket prices competitive with those of existing airlines.
“So finalizing the exact number around the taxes," Jacob said. "But we’ll be in the same ballpark as the current scheduled providers.”
The airline will join Grant Aviation and Ravn Air at the Kenai airport.
A new airline, Rambler Air, was also slated to make its home at the Kenai Municipal Airport this spring.
But Luke Hickerson, vice president of operations for Rambler, said that’s no longer the case.
He wouldn’t say why. Reporting from an industry publication said the company’s owners, Ascent Global Logistics, did not initially meet certain certification requirements required to start scheduled flights.
Jacob said Kenai Aviation has most of its ducks in a row for a spring launch. It’s awaiting approval from the Department of Transportation to get commute authority
But even without that, he says they can start flying up to five scheduled flights a week per destination. He said the company hopes to start booking mid-April for flights starting May. They’ll start with an early morning flight from Kenai to Anchorage, a midday flight between Kenai and Anchorage and back and a late-night flight from Anchorage to Kenai.
Joel said he’s excited to bring Kenai-based service back to the area.
“When we first moved here, I rode back and forth to Anchorage on Southcentral Air," he said. "The community of Kenai was proud to have our own locally based airline serving Southcentral Alaska.”
And he said he wants to provide Valdez and Homer with another airline option, since Grant no longer flies to those communities.
Joel said Kenai Aviation already has a gate at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage that it uses for its charter flights. In Kenai, passengers will check in at the ticket counter at the airport, pending approval from the city.
Eland Conway is the manager at the Kenai Municipal Airport. He said more options for locals and tourists is always a good thing.
"It’s been more than a decade since a scheduled air carrier entered the Kenai market," Conway said. "We’re all excited here at the airport to have our namesake airline begin scheduled passenger service to Anchorage.”
The Caldwells said Kenai Aviation will continue with its on-demand charters and flight school, as well.