Aviation is the most efficient way to travel in Southeast Alaska and there are two companies that specialise in flying around this challenging region.
Juneau-based Alaska Seaplanes is the leading commuter airline in the area, providing scheduled flights, charters and US mail services. Wings Airways specialises in float plane tours, especially for passengers from cruise liners that visit the area.
“You name it, we haul it,” said Mike Stedman, the co-owner of Alaska Seaplanes and a partner in Wings Airways.
“People in the remote villages use us like city dwellers use a car. They fly into town with us, go to the grocery store, get their supplies and fly home. The local pizza restaurant will use our service to make deliveries, we’ve transported prisoners and I’ve even seen orphaned bear cubs and eagles on our planes.”
Seven days a week from May to September, Wings Airways flies cruise line passengers to the remote Taku Lodge and on sightseeing tours of the area’s dramatic glaciers.
Both companies rely on aircraft that can cope with tough conditions and heavy workloads. A Cessna 208B ‘Supervan’ Grand Caravan is part of the Alaska Seaplanes fleet.
Wings Airways’ line-up includes five single-engine de Havilland DHC-3 Otters that are fitted with floats in the summer.
Increased power and efficiency were needed and, to achieve these benefits, the companies decided on engine upgrades for the Caravan and Otters.
Alaska Seaplanes chose to install a 900hp Honeywell TPE331-12JR turboprop engine to replace the standard PT6 engine on its 1997 model Caravan which had 6,000 hours on the clock.
Wings Airways opted for Honeywell TPE331-10R turboprop engines to replace the standard Pratt & Whitney R-1340 radials on its Otters, and since the upgrade they have accumulated a total combined flight time of over 20,000 hours.
Work on all six aircraft was carried out by Honeywell partner Texas Turbine Conversions which holds the supplemental type certificate (STC) and has been implementing these modifications for 20 years.
“Previously, we could burn up to three gallons of oil an hour so we were putting three gallons of oil in for every trip and that was very expensive" said Stedman.
“Also, the time between overhaul used to be 1,000 hours but with the new engines it is 7,000 hours, so the upgrades were a no-brainer for us. We’ve been able to reduce costs and still maintain the same amount of passenger traffic.”