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FAA Blames Bad Weather — Over 5 Months — For Missed Beacon Inspections

Feb 9, 2018

The runway at the Tom Madsen Airport in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB

Almost 170 passengers are stranded as Unalaska endures its fourth day of canceled flights.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official said the airport’s non-directional radio beacon was “fixed” Thursday by an on-the-ground team.

But now, a flight crew — which has to check the navigational equipment from the air — has been delayed in Anchorage.

“Crew and aircraft are in position to promptly check this navigational aid when the weather at Dutch Harbor permits,” said Allen Kenitzer of the FAA’s Office of Communications in a statement.

Kenitzer did not address why the first FAA crew did not also complete the aerial check.  

The beacon’s certification expired Tuesday, prompting PenAir to cancel its flights to and from the island. The beacon helps planes land and take off safely.

Asked why the FAA didn’t inspect and re-certify the beacon before its expiration, Kenitzer said inspectors haven’t found a clear-weather window in about five months.  

“Since September, numerous flight check attempts have been made to conduct necessary checks on the non-directional beacon at Dutch Harbor,” he said. “Due to bad weather at Dutch Harbor, the flight check crews have not been able to conduct the necessary testing.”

Kenitzer declined to share how many attempts were made or when they took place.

Meanwhile, PenAir’s Missy Roberts said 78 people in Anchorage and 90 people in Unalaska are waiting for flights to resume.

“As soon as we know the airport’s open, we’ll throw out as many extra [flights] as we can,” she said. “[This situation] is killing us. We’re losing money left and right.”

Roberts said she doesn’t expect the FAA to reimburse the airline.

“Well, they’re the government,” she said. “I doubt very seriously that there would be any compensation.”

A Ravn Alaska charter flight, contracted by a fish plant, was able to land in Unalaska. Ravn officials said the airline’s planes have a dual GPS system that allows pilots to approach the island safely without using the beacon. Roberts said PenAir’s planes do not.

KUCB’s attempts to reach Grant Aviation and ACE Air Cargo were unsuccessful. It’s unclear if the companies’ services have also been affected by the situation.