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These days Era Alaska is getting a lot of attention, mainly because of Discovery Channel’s successful reality show, Flying Wild Alaska. Era Alaska came about after Frontier Flying Service and Hageland Aviation joined forced in 2008. The resulting company eventually bought an Alaskan-based Part 121 company called Era Aviation. At that point Hageland and Frontier settled on “Era Alaska” as the operating name for the Part 135 air taxi part of the company. The TV show focuses on one of the owners, Jim Tweto and his family (who are every bit as genuine as they are portrayed). What about the other owners?
Frontier Flying Service was bought by John Hajdukovich in 1974. John Hajdukovich was a long time Fairbanks resident as well as a seasoned pilot when he bought Frontier. These days two of his sons, John and Bob do most of the work at the airline.
On the Hageland side, besides Jim, there is Mike Hageland. Mike is still heavily involved in the day to day operations of the airline, although I doubt you will see him on the show. By the time I showed up at Hageland in 1995 Mike had already moved into Anchorage from Mt. Village. Despite the easy big city living, Mike still showed up in the villages quite often (usually around New Years and hunting season). Lots of good stories there that won’t cross my computer screen. Suffice it to say that Mike remained “one of the guys” even as the company he founded became a huge commercial success.
The road to success had many bumps along the way. There were several well-documented accidents which threatened the very existence of Hageland Aviation. Somehow, Mike, Jim, and Ron (Jim’s brother) always found a way to keep the company running. One of the biggest blows was when Ron died in a plane crash in Arkansas. I remember going out to the bar in Nome and hoisting a beer while we waited for confirmation of the accident. It was a loss both personal and professional to everyone at the company. Despite the success of Era today, those of us who knew Ron wonder where the company would be today if he were still around. (We speculate that he would have implemented non-stop service to Mars, in a pressurized C-207.)
At any rate, the history of Era Alaska runs a lot longer than the TV show, and the reality involves a lot more unexciting hard work then the show accounts for. Neither Mike nor Jim (TV show aside) are much interested in publicity. Both prefer plain old hard work.
Back in the Fall of 2010 I convinced Mike to sit down for a discussion of the blue collar roots of Era Alaska. This recording is the result.
In this interview you’ll hear about:
- Mike’s first airplane ride at age 16 in northern Minnesota.
- How he ended up in Alaska and decided to become a pilot.
- What aviation was like in Alaska in the mid-1970s.
- How he started his own company in the early 1980s with a single Cessna 180 based in Mountain Village.
- How runways in Alaska have improved over the years.
- Meeting Ron Tweto in 1989.
- Joining forces with Ron and Jim Tweto in 1990 to serve Unalakleet, Aniak, and McGrath.
- Getting their first Caravan in 1995.
- The Bypass Mail system and how it changed the nature of the aviation business in Alaska.
- Combining forces with Frontier Flying Service in 2008 to form HoTH and rebrand their new services as “Frontier Alaska.”
- Acquiring Era Alaska in 2009.
- How being a pilot in Alaska has changed over the years.
- Looking back on 30 years in the business.
- How to learn from aviation accidents.
- Mike’s best advice for a new pilot looking to fly in Alaska.
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You can learn more about the history of Hageland on the Era Alaska web site.