Kenai’s airport has space for three carriers. But those spaces haven’t all been full since 2013, when Lake and Peninsula Airlines was at the airport.
This spring, a new airline will offer daily flights from Kenai to Anchorage and back. Rambler Air will join Ravn Alaska and Grant Aviation as early as next month, pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. The Kenai City Council signed off on a lease agreement with the airline this week.
“It will be exciting. We haven’t had three scheduled airlines in a few years since Lake and Pen left," said airport manager Mary Bondurant. "We wish them the best of luck.”
Rambler Air is a new airline. But Hageland Aviation Services, whose name is on the airport lease, is not.
Hageland was a branch of Ravn Air Group, mostly servicing Fairbanks and rural Alaska. That was until Ravn went bankrupt last spring.
A few months later, Michigan-based company Ascent Global Logistics bought Hageland. It announced the launch of Rambler Air in November.
Luke Hickerson is vice president of operations for Rambler.
“There's always a demand for more travel," he said.
Rambler has a base at Lake Hood in Anchorage. Hickerson said they’ll offer service between there and both Kenai and Homer, though he’s not sure where it’ll base its Homer service yet.
Rambler is looking at running flights from Fairbanks, too, and flying out of rural Alaska. Where, exactly, is still to be determined.
“We’re looking at different places that are lacking in service, or maybe could utilize some competition and service," Hickerson said. "With the bankruptcy of Ravn, or Ravn Air Group, we’ll call it, obviously there’s plenty of voids left in the state that I think we can service.”
The company has eight of its Piper Chieftain Navajos from prior operations and is leasing two Beechcraft 1900. Hickerson said Rambler plans to do around eight flights each week day from Kenai to Anchorage and eight in the other direction, with eight seats per flight. They’ll make fewer trips on the weekends.
Ravn, which relaunched late last year, is doing four flights each way on a given weekday. Grant Aviation is doing around 10.
That means there could be over 20 flights each way between Kenai and Anchorage daily.
“Kenai has a large population as far as that travels back and forth to Anchorage, and there’s been a reduction in service there," Hickerson said. "So that makes sense.”
The airport has been in a bit of a lull, both since the pandemic and since Ravn went bankrupt. Ravn opened back up under new leadership late last year, though it hasn’t returned to full-scheduled service yet.
City Manager Paul Ostrander said he thinks there could be enough demand, particularly in the summer.
“Will additional competition change the pricing structure of those flights significantly? It might," he said. "And with that, I think there is a possibility that there would be enough demand for three airlines.”
Hickerson said they’ll likely keep their tickets in the $100 to $120 range, like the two existing airlines.
“I don't see us being the company to come in and try to undercut everybody," he said "When, at the end of the day, there’s a fair market value for ticket prices.”
Hickerson said Rambler currently has about 30 employees and anticipates that number doubling before the end of the summer. He said many of the employees he hired previously worked at Hageland. Hickerson was a pilot at the company in 2014.
Ascent Global, the firm that owns Hageland and Rambler, also owns USA Jet, a cargo airline based in Michigan.
The Kenai City Council was excited about the addition on Wednesday. Councilman Jim Glendening called it a blessing.
“This is a pleasant surprise," he said. "A new opportunity for us.”
Bondurant said Rambler’s office, ticket counter and bag belt are ready to go.
The company is awaiting permission to start up, both from the Department of Transportation and the FAA.
“So whether that’s exactly mid-May or beginning of June, I’d obviously like to be up and running before the real summer push gets going, ‘cause that’s when things get tight with trying to find tickets to get back and forth," Hickerson said.
Although Hageland already has permission from the FAA to operate from its previous life, Hickerson said enough has changed to warrant a rewrite.