Update October 25 at 2:37 p.m.: Ravn Air and Grant Aviation flights to Tununak should be back to normal by the end of the week.
On October 25 at 2:15 p.m., Ravn spokespeople Terrance Stepetin and Akiyo Kikuchi told KYUK that the airline resumed its regular service to the village on Monday. Grant President Bruce McGlasson says that his airline has not resumed service yet but is flying a plane to Tununak this afternoon. The pilot will test the safety of the new runway, and Grant flights will resume immediately once they confirm that the airport has been fixed.
Original article, published October 25 at 2:00 p.m.:
After nearly three weeks without air travel, Tununak might finally have a functional airport again.
The village’s $19 million airport is less than a year old, but shifting permafrost had already buckled and potholed its runway; a third of it was starting to sink. Earlier this month, Ravn Alaska and Grant Aviation both refused to fly to the village, citing safety concerns. As the shelves at the local store ran empty, Tununak residents resorted to driving across the tundra on four wheelers to Toksook Bay to pick up their groceries and mail.
According to Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesperson Shannon McCarthy, Tununak’s airport should now be fixed. A team of DOT grader operators flew to the village and graded the runway several days ago. Their emergency contractor unloaded rock, gravel, and other materials from a barge in the village yesterday, which the team will use to further grade and smooth the area.
“Unfortunately this is more settling than expected,” McCarthy said. “But it is the cost of doing business.”
Ravn and Grant have yet to respond to KYUK’s requests for comment, and it’s not clear if they’ve officially started flying to Tununak again, but at least one Ravn flight landed safely at the airport earlier this week. Gloria Kanrilak, the Tununak store’s general manager, was on a flight on Monday that was scheduled to land in Toksook Bay. She said that the Ravn ticket agent in Bethel warned passengers that the airline still wouldn’t be flying to Tununak, but once they were in the air their pilot took a look at the village’s runway, thought it looked safe, and got permission to make an extra stop.
A second shipment of materials is expected in the village on November 1 and McCarthy said that work on the airport should be completed by the end of that week. She added that the permafrost might shift beneath the runway again next spring.