After four days of cancellations, Unalaska’s passenger flights resumed Saturday when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally completed its inspection of a navigational beacon at the airport.
PenAir grounded all of its flights last Tuesday after the beacon’s safety certification expired.
Now, the airline has returned to its normal flight schedule — and moved almost 170 people who’d been stranded.
"We’re caught up," said PenAir Spokesperson Missy Roberts. "Everybody’s where they wanted to be."
PenAir added several extra flights on Sunday to make up for the lost time. Roberts credited the airline’s new fleet of larger Saab 2000s for the quick turnaround.
“That’s what happens when you have those beautiful 45-seat aircraft," she said. "You can clear people out pretty quickly."
Still, the planes don’t have dual GPS navigation — technology that would have let PenAir fly safely while the beacon was down. Asked whether the airline has considered upgrading the 2000s, Roberts said she hasn’t heard of any plans to do so.
"But [PenAir leadership] is always looking at ways to improve all of our aircraft and safety measures, so it’s something that they certainly could have on their radar," she said.
Meanwhile, FAA officials blamed their missed inspections on bad weather, saying they couldn’t find a clear window to check the beacon over the course of five months.
"Since September, numerous flight check attempts have been made to conduct necessary checks on the non-directional beacon," said Allen Kenitzer of the FAA in a statement. "Due to bad weather at Dutch Harbor, the flight check crews [were] not able to conduct the necessary testing."
Kenitzer declined to share how many attempts were made or when they took place.
He also hasn’t responded to KUCB’s inquiry as to how long this new safety certification will last.