The Aleutians East Borough hovercraft is up and operating!
The 95 foot hovercraft, Suna-X (Aleut word for large boat) has been operating between King Cove, an isolated Aleut Native community of 800 residents, and Cold Bay where the third largest airport in Alaska is located. The hovercraft can carry 48 passengers with the ability to roll-on, roll-off an ambulance and cargo. It has been meeting the Peninsula Airways flight schedule taking passengers without charging. So far the hovercraft has moved over 700 passengers, 50 plus vehicles, many 4-wheelers and has had 9 medivacs. However, full paying service will be in place very soon once the new hovercraft operators receive their approval letters from the Coast Guard for their special hovercraft certification. The Borough is pleased to have local residents on staff to operate the hovercraft, which always has to have two people at the controls - the operator driving the hovercraft and the navigator making sure there is nothing in its route on the water, for example a skiff. The Borough is looking for a couple more captains who want to get thier special certification so the main operators are able to take vacations and days off since they are required to be on call 24 hours a day in case a medivac is necessary. The high speed hovercraft ride between the two landing sites takes approximately 20-30 minutes.
The operation costs for the hovercraft will be high and the city of King Cove and the Borough may not be able to subsidize the operation so the goal is still to continue working towards a road connecting King Cove and Cold Bay. A bill authorizing a land trade between the federal government, the state of Alaska and the King Cove Native Corporation has been introduced in Congress that would add 61,723 acres of wildlife habitat to the Izembek and Alaska Peninsula Wildlife Refuge. In exchange for this land, King Cove residents would receive a right-of-way for a single lane road through Izembek Refuge leading to Cold Bay 25 miles away with approximately 8 miles going through the refuge.
The King Cove road issue first came before Congress in 1998 when a road plan between King Cove and the all-weather Cold Bay airport was rejected. As a compromise, Congress appropriated $20 million under the King Cove Health and Safety Act for a road-marine transportation system link between the two cities.