July 27, 2008

Business Improves on Russia-Alaska Flights

By Rob Stapleton, Alaska Journal of Commerce, Anchorage

Jul. 27--A lone Russian operator of the only air service between Anchorage and the Russian Far East says the flight is slowly attracting more passengers, and seasonal flights will continue through mid-September.

Officials from the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and the World Trade Center Alaska were on hand to greet the flight July 7 when Vladivostok Air's first flight to Anchorage from Petropavlosk.

Since 2001, when Reeve Aleutian Airways ceased its service to the Russian Far East, oil industry and tourism businesses have hoped another carrier would offer similar services. Vladivostok Air is overcoming the loss of Aeroflot, and Magadan's Mavial Airline who earlier pulled out of Alaska due to a lack of passenger traffic.

The third flight from Petropavlosk-Kamchatski, Russia arrived in the rain in Anchorage shortly after 5 a.m. on July 17, to pick up a group of Japanese tourists. The Tupelov TU-154M landed on runway 7Right and quickly taxied to the North Terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

"It didn't fill the airplane but it is catching on," said Roman Grigoriev, station manager for Vladivostok Air, nodding toward a group of Japanese tourists headed for the Kamchatka Peninsula, to connect eventually to a flight to Narita Airport in Tokyo. The travelers, outfitted with fishing vests, backpacks and hiking boots, had been to Denali National Park and were waiting to check-in at the Korean Air counter, also used by Vladivostok Air's customer service agents.

Vladivostok Air started its Russia-Alaska flights on July 7, with service from Petropavlosk-Kamchatski, in hopes of serving select groups, according to a company spokesperson.

"We have three groups that are going to use our service, The Fly Shop from California, the Best of Kamchatka, a Denver based company and Kamchatka Trophy, an International group from Moscow," said Kenji Honaoka, with Vladivostok Air.

Originally Vlad Air had hoped to use an Airbus aircraft but due to the nighttime closure of two Russian airports, Anadyr and Magadan they were forced to use the three engine TU-154M a 181 passenger Russian built aircraft, according to the airline's officials.

"Due to ATOPS (Advance Transport Operating Systems) regulations we have to have two alternate airports or a larger three or four engine aircraft," said Honaoka. "Anadyr and Magadan sent out notices in June that they were going to be closed during our flight times so this forced us to use the three engine Tupelov."

Vladivostok Airline officials said that they will operate seasonal flights that arrive in Anchorage weekly on Mondays until Sept. 15, and will operate an additional flight on Thursday August 14.

Reservations and ticketing are being handled by PMI, and Red Star and can also be purchased at US Travel in Alaska.

Tickets on the airline are $3,390 for business class seats and $1,890 for economy seating from Anchorage to Petropavlosk round-trip.

Rob Stapleton can be reached at [email protected]">[email protected]


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