Wexford Capital, the parent of Sterling Airways (Jacksonville Craig, FL), has announced that it will form a joint venture with Alaska Seaplanes (J5, Juneau Int'l) and local investment firm McKinsey Alaska Private Investment LLC under the brand of Aleutian Airways (Juneau Int'l) to connect Anchorage Ted Stevens with Unalaska/Dutch Harbor.

Flights are due to begin at an unspecified date in autumn 2021, with an exact schedule due to be announced later this month. Sterling Airways will operate the route using ex-PenAir Saab 2000s under the Aleutian Airways brand, as per a capacity purchase agreement with the JV. The airline did not respond to ch-aviation's request for clarification on whether it plans to add a single Saab turboprop or more.

"Our independent analysis determined the Saab 2000 to be the most capable platform for operations to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, and when flown by experienced flight crews - under PenAir’s original stringent experience requirements - Saab 2000 service can restore the standard of safety and reliability that PenAir had established when it was operating independently,” President and CEO of Sterling Airways Wayne Haller said.

Haller's emphasis on safety and PenAir's standards stems from the perception of Unalaska as a particularly dangerous airport. In 2019, PenAir's Saab 2000 crashed during landing at the Aleutian airport, killing one of the passengers. Haller added that Sterling Airways was already hiring ex-PenAir pilots and staff.

Alaska Seaplanes President Kent Craford told the Juneau Empire daily that the Saab 2000 is particularly well-suited to the role due to its speed and range, necessary due to the distance between Anchorage and Unalaska (790 miles/1,270 kilometres), frequent and rapid weather changes in the Aleutian Islands, and the remoteness of the airport lacking any nearby alternative facilities.

While Sterling Airways will operate the flights and maintain the aircraft, Alaska Seaplanes will execute primarily back-office tasks in the JV and will not be involved in the operations.

The ch-aviation schedules module shows that Ravn Alaska operates 2x daily between Anchorage and Unalaska using smaller Dash 8-100 turboprops. Alaska Central Express operates cargo-only flights to the airport and Grant Aviation plies short-haul combi flights but does not connect to Alaska's largest city.

Wexford Capital bought Via Airlines out of bankruptcy in July 2020 and subsequently rebranded the carrier as Sterling Airways. Already last year, Alaska Seaplanes was exploring partnering with Sterling to use its AOC for growth in the state. Sterling Airways was authorised to resume scheduled operations in March 2021. Its fleet comprises a single EMB-145LR currently active on charter flights in the contiguous US.

PenAir was a subsidiary of RavnAir Group, which went bankrupt during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following a failed bid by Alaska Seaplanes, PenAir's AOC was acquired by California's FLOAT, albeit without the aircraft.