It’s not every airport that lists wandering herds of caribou as one of its operational hazards, but then again, not every airport is located 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle like the evocatively named Deadhorse Airport in Prudhoe Bay, on Alaska’s Northern shore. In operation since 1970 to provide service to the largest oil field in North America, the airport–believed to have been named for an old trucking company rather than an equine carcass–has for the last two decades had its aviation fuel service provided by Colville Inc. Colville, in business since the 1950s, offers a variety of services to the local community, including operating the general store and post office as well as providing various fuels to the numerous oil rigs and hauling away their garbage. Two years ago the company established Colville Aviation as the airport’s sole FBO in a newly constructed building.
“The whole FBO lounge is about 1,200 square feet,” said operations manager Lyle Winter. “It’s not huge, but it’s adequate for what we do.”
That open-plan lounge includes a conference area, a pilot rest area, flight-planning area, office space with desktop computers, a pair of snooze rooms and a kitchenette, stocked with sandwich ingredients as well as complimentary microwaveable foods for crewmembers looking for something hot to eat. While passengers and crew might be excused for thinking they had reached the ends of the Earth in a location that doesn’t see daylight in December and January, complimentary Wi-Fi at the facility allows them to remain in contact with the rest of the world. For catering, Colville can supply meals based on whatever is on the menu at the company’s base camp several miles away. According to Winter, that could range from lasagna and pizza to ribeye steaks and king crab. The company will also provide shuttle service anywhere in the vicinity.
While Deadhorse has a recently repaved 6,500-foot runway, the FBO facility has operated with a dirt ramp since its opening. “We try to keep her graded down and cleaned up pretty good,” Winter told AIN, noting that a months-long project to pave more than a third of the FBO’s three-acre leasehold will begin this summer.
Business Jet Traffic Picks Up
Colville does not own any hangars on the airport, which sees several flights a day by Alaska Airlines 737s as well as Q400s, Beech 1900s and Caravans from other local carriers (if you can call the 1,200 miles between Prudhoe Bay and Anchorage local), but Colville has access to hangarage that can shelter an aircraft up to the size of a GIV.
While some of the oil companies operate their own 737 shuttles to carry workers to and from Fairbanks and Anchorage, business jets have been seen there as well. During the cold-test phase for its flagship, Gulfstream flew a G650 there and it spent a week operating from the airport. Winter noted the number of business jets reaching that far north has been on the rise for the past few years, with approximately 20 visiting over the past year, mainly during the summer when temperatures average a relatively balmy 50 degrees. Each year, one private jet owner and his wife stop at the airport in a Cessna CJ1 on their airport-hopping tour of Alaska. The warmer period coincides with more than two months of continuous daylight and an influx of bush aircraft carrying hunters with the caribou herds in their sights. Colville’s van is often pressed into service carrying meat to storage facilities to be trucked south.
The recently branded Avfuel dealer handles all aircraft fueling at the airport (including airline and military) and pumps two million gallons of jet-A and 250,000 gallons of 100LL annually. The company-owned fuel farm can hold 42,000 gallons of jet-A, including 12,000 gallons in a card-lock self-serve tank, along with 22,000 gallons of 100LL, 12,000 gallons of which is held in a similar self-serve unit. For those who want full service, the facility operates two jet-A tankers holding 5,000 gallons and 4,700 gallons respectively, and a pair of avgas trucks.
The facility has a pair of operations managers and four linemen who work on rotation. The FBO is open (but not always staffed) 24/7 year-round, even with temperatures averaging -35 degrees F. in winter, but for a handful of days each year, the mercury drops too low for operations to continue. While some aircraft might still function in those temperatures, add in wind chill and you can begin to understand the toll the severe cold takes on man and equipment alike. According to Winter, who has been with the company for 14 years, under those challenging conditions any machinery with hydraulics must have heat blankets covering its fluid tanks and a lengthy warm-up period before use; those with air systems require extremely dry conditions as condensation from overnight storage in heated shops will freeze lines and valves alike.
Despite such grueling conditions, the Colville staff continues to ensure the safety and satisfaction of their clients. “Our philosophy is no matter what the situation is, the customer has got the benefit of the doubt,” said Winter. “We just do whatever we can to extend a helping hand.”