Apr. 9 – The air bridge between the U.S. state of Alaska and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula will be resume this July five years after the collapse of direct flights between Anchorage (Alaska’s largest city) and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski (the urban and administrative center of the peninsula).
Yakutia Air, based in Russia’s northern Republic of Sakha, plans to offer direct flights over the Bering Straits starting in July, permitting direct travel to the isolated Russian peninsula for researchers, adventurers, businessmen and Russian expatriates living in Alaska.
Yakutia Air flies a fleet of 27 planes, including the Boeing 757, Boeing 737, and Russian planes like Tu-154, An-140-100 and An-24RV, according to the airline’s website. It flies to about 40 destinations in Russia and also flies to Asia and Europe.
A roundtrip ticket will cost about US$1,750, about the same as people currently have to pay to travel to Kamchatka through Moscow, according to the University of Alaska Fairbanks student-run newspaper, The Sun Star. But the direct flight will save a day and half of travel time.
“When you have to fly now, you get there and for two days you are feeling like a zombie,” said Dr. Pavel Izbekov, a research associate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.
Ed Plumb, an adventure enthusiast from Fairbanks, has long dreamed of traveling to Kamchatka, but “it’s just not worth it if you have to fly around the world,” he said.
The flights will be seasonal, running once a week each way between July 12 and September 13, according to a press release from the authorities of Kamchatka region.
The last regularly scheduled flights across the Bering Straits ended in 2006 with the bankruptcy of the airline Mavial Magadan Air. Vladivostok Air offered a charter flight until mid-2008.
Kamchatka region officials say that when the previous direct air connection ended in 2008, tourism dropped by 15 percent to 20 percent.
When the flights from Alaska to Russia began in the early 1990s, it was also another connection between Anchorage and the city of Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East.
“Every time I ever flew, the flight was full,” said Izbekov, who used to fly since flights over Bering Straits first began.
“I spent US$3,000 to see my son’s wedding in Khabarovsk,” said Ekaterina Bezkorovaynaya, a Russian expatriate who came to Alaska in the early 1990s. She hopes that the flights will make visiting her family easier, she said.
Originally, U.S. company North Pacific Aviation organized the newly restarted flights in a deal with Russian Vladivostok Air, until the later was merged with airline giant Aeroflot this February. Organizers were then forced to turn to a different carrier, Yakutia Air, to take on the new Kamchatka flights.
Kamchatka Peninsula, a nature preserve the size of California with an area of 182,400 square miles, is home to 160 volcanoes and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of the 160, 29 are still active. In the center of the peninsula is the world famous Geyser Valley.
Kamchatka is sparsely populated by mostly Russians (322,079) and aboriginal Koryak people (8,743).
After World War II, Kamchatka was declared a military zone due to its proximity to Japan. Kamchatka remained closed to Soviet citizens until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990.
Kamchatka’s vast natural resources are underdeveloped and the region depends on imports of fuel, food products and equipment. Most of the economy is based on the fishing industry that exports its rich produce including cod, sardines and pacific salmon to Japan, China, Korea and the rest of Russia.