Story last updated at 1:54 p.m. Thursday, July 18, 2002

Air carrier business soars
by Mark Kelsey
Staff writer

The early success of Homer Air's service to Anchorage has the carrier flying high -- and considering extending and upgrading the service.

According to spokesman Neil Bergt, flights to and from Anchorage have been operating at an optimal level of around 70 percent capacity. The volume of business has led to thoughts of extending the twice-a-day operation into the winter months, adding more flights and acquiring larger, faster aircraft to better serve the market.

"We're very pleased with the response we've gotten," said Bergt, whose fleet presently contains three, five-passenger Cessna 206s and a seven-passenger twin-engine Islander, which handles the Anchorage service.

Bergt said Monday the company is interested in adding a nine-passenger Cessna Caravan to meet the steady demand. A decision about winter service and new aircraft is expected to be made within the next 30 days.

Homer Air has two daily flights to Anchorage and may increase that if a service upgrade is forthcoming.

"We're analyzing the market to see if we really want to be in it in the winter," Bergt said. "We recognize that July and January are two different things in Alaska."

If winter service is not in the cards for Homer Air this year, Bergt said, decisions about upgrading the Anchorage service will be deferred until spring.

Homer Air is the third carrier in the Anchorage market. It follows Fairbanks-based newcomer Frontier Flying Service, which began service between Homer and Anchorage in May, and Era Aviation of Anchorage, which has serviced Homer for 18 years.

Paul Landis, Era's fixed-wing division vice-president, said the company has seen no decrease in business since Homer Air joined the market. He said air traffic in general was down slightly in June, but has picked up again in the first half of this month.

"I don't see (Homer Air) making a big dent in our traffic," he said.

He noted that several competitors have come and gone over the years that Era has served Homer. The company's longevity and customer service, coupled with the relative comfort of its 38-passenger Dash 8 aircraft, have made it a hit with the flying public, Landis said.

"We have a great staff in Homer. I think people are comfortable with the fact that Era has been in Homer for 18 years -- and will be for another 18 years," he said. "We're concentrating on the job we're doing and doing it right."

Era has three round-trip flights to Anchorage daily during the week, two on weekends. One-way fares run between $82 and $103, with a seven-day advance purchase.

Homer Air charges a one-way fare of $55 with a three-day advance purchase.

Frontier offers two daily flights between Anchorage and Homer for $94, one way. Company officials could not be reached for comment.