The helicopter to Diomede flew Friday morning at 11 a.m., the first flight to the remote Bering Sea island since a contract for service that uses state and federal funding lapsed at the end of June.
A new contract was formally signed Thursday by Erickson Aviation, regional nonprofit Kawerak, and federal Department of Transportation officials. Despite the contract ending June 30, mail deliveries by Erickson have continued.
“All the signatures, all the final ones came through yesterday, and as soon as I got back, there was a phone message for me and a couple emails saying go ahead, get going,” said Mike Kutbya, the Nome-based pilot and manager for Erickson Aviation. “Soon as I got the aircraft tied down, I called people that had missed flights over the last couple of weeks and got a flight ready to go today.”
The flight will continue its customary route, leaving from Nome and heading roughly 140 miles northwest toward Little Diomede. As in the past, weather and the number of passengers may necessitate an additional stopover at the community of Wales, where passengers can also board the helicopter and fly to Diomede. Tickets between Nome and Diomede remain $200 one-way; one-way tickets between Wales and Diomede are $100.
The federal Department of Transportation and Kawerak worked since May to hammer out a new contract, which leverages nearly $340,000 to keep the service running under the Essential Air Service program set up in 1978. Evergreen was the company that ran flights to Diomede in 2012 and 2013. Erickson eventually bought Evergreen, but a proposal from Erickson for the 2014 contract wasn’t delivered until June 7. That delayed input and approval from Diomede residents, federal DOT officials, and Kawerak until the end of June.
The new contract is now signed by all parties. As of Friday July 18, Kutyba said Erickson is resuming flights twice a week to the island—passenger service on Monday, weather permitting, with mail service on Wednesdays. Kutyba said Friday’s flight was to make up for those who have been waiting for weeks to return to the island.