Many villages in Alaska are in what’s known as “The Bush.” They are completely off the U.S. road system and, in some cases, not even accessible by water. These communities are only reachable by air (weather permitting) or snow machine and ATV. These routes are the only way to get furniture, clothing, food, heating fuel, medical supplies and other necessities to the people living in these communities.
Air strips in Bush Alaska are truly a community’s lifeline. And Ryan Air has been a familiar site on these runways for more than half a century, delivering the freight Alaskans need to live their lives. The airline serves 73 villages out of seven hubs – Aniak, Bethel, Emmonak, Kotzebue, Nome, St. Mary’s and Unalakleet - with 14 aircraft and 90 employees.
With the number of staff and aircraft, and the danger associated with traveling in such remote and challenging locations, communication is vital for coordinating the delivery of freight as well as ensuring the safety of pilots. In addition, communication is required from the main site to the hubs, as well as between the hubs, to troubleshoot any problems. All of this vital communication, until recently, occurred via phone or email over virtual private networks on high-latency satellite, requiring it to manually schedule flights and track freight, in addition to other operational inefficiencies.
In 2012 and 2013 the TERRA network arrived in rural Alaska, bringing a hybrid fiber-optic and microwave terrestrial broadband system to Western Alaska – and five of Ryan Air’s hubs - for the first time. The last two hubs will receive TERRA broadband in 2014 in the continued expansion of the network by GCI, Alaska’s largest telecommunications company.
TERRA has provided Ryan Air with instant communications, which has greatly improved employee morale; they can now converse, coordinate schedules and troubleshoot problems with instant messaging. In fact, managers meet daily via instant messaging to coordinate the day’s schedule.
Ryan Air has also been able to control inventory and track planes online, allowing all sites to have real-time awareness of all of its resources, improving safety and reducing operational costs. Ryan estimates that it has experienced a 250 percent return on the investment made in new hardware and software to accommodate the newly expanded network. And, as one of the only means of getting supplies around remote Alaska, Ryan Air receives additional business from TERRA during network construction.
“TERRA has been an outstanding source of income for us,” said Wilfred Ryan, president of Ryan Air. “In addition to the drastic improvements in access, speed and overall operations the project has caused a direct boost in our business.”
Ryan also noted as a benefit the customer service experience with GCI.
“The side benefit of TERRA is that we love the GCI people that we work with,” Ryan said. “The contractors are not only knowledgeable, but they are also sympathetic to the environmental and cultural requirements of our communities.”