Tatonduk Outfitters Limited dba Everts Air
Delivering quality with a pioneering spirit
Curtiss Wright C-46 offloading cargo at Everts Air charter destination in rural Alaska.
Photo by Andy Lyon/Everts Air Cargo
Tatonduk Outfitters Limited, doing business as Everts Air Cargo and Everts Air Alaska, has an origin that embraces the pioneering spirit of the Klondike Gold Rush. It was formed in 1978 by Mark Lynch in Eagle—only one hundred miles down the Yukon River from Dawson City, Yukon, and six miles west of the Alaska/Canada border—Tatonduk Outfitters began as a flying service with light aircraft like the Cessna 206 and Piper Lance that was tailored to trappers and miners.
“I bought the operation in 1993 [from Lynch], and at the time there were three employees, a couple of aircraft, and an [FAA] Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate running a few schedules, and that was the beginning,” says Robert Everts, president and owner of Tatonduk Outfitters Limited, a business encompassing Everts Air Cargo and Everts Air Alaska.
Today, the company specializes in cargo operations, providing for the unique needs of their customers in larger cities and small villages in remote or centralized locations across Alaska. Everts Air Cargo primarily transports freight and bypass mail, including oversized freight, hazardous materials, and basically anything that fits in the door, Everts says. The company is headquartered in Fairbanks where maintenance, administrative, and (Alaska and Lower 48) charter operations are centered. The company has 255 employees statewide and 10 out of state.
In order to handle the unique needs of rural Alaska, Everts began utilizing the vintage aircraft of the McDonnell Douglas DC-6 in 1995. Everts added a new DC-6 aircraft every year from 1995 until 2002 and began adding the Curtiss Wright C-46 to the operation in 1997.
“The [McDonnell Douglas] DC-6 is a reliable, hardworking, and rugged airplane. There was a large production run of the DC-6 back in the ‘50s. We began using the DC-6 in the early ‘80s hauling fuel under my father’s business Everts Air Fuel which is where I got my start. That experience led to my decision that the DC-6 would be a good alternative for a freighter,” Everts says.
The DC-6 has an average payload of twenty-eight thousand pounds with a cargo door 124 inches wide by 70 inches tall. The Everts Air DC-6 fleet comes from the original military surplus or from other civilian operators.
“There was plenty of work at the time [in 1995] and lots of unimproved runways then—and still today,” Everts says. “The DC-6 can land on packed ice, snow, gravel, frozen lakes, rough mining strips, and has a very large cargo door. It’s a perfect airplane for providing on-demand cargo service, especially for all the different industries that thrive here in Alaska.”
Less than half the size of a DC-6, the Curtiss Wright C-46 first took wing in 1940. C-46 airplanes were bought by the US military for transport aircraft during World War II and since then have been mainly utilized for cargo operations.
“The C-46 will go into some rougher runways, and it’s our aircraft of choice when we’re landing on frozen lakes or rivers in the winter time. It has a lighter foot print, and in most cases it generally will carry any of the oversized product that the DC-6 will carry,” Everts says. “It just boils down to what the customer needs at the time, whether they need twenty-eight thousand pounds of lift or thirteen thousand pounds of lift.”
Scheduled flights depart from Anchorage to twelve major hubs spanning across Alaska, with most stops in Western Alaska. Although the airline provides charter flights, the bulk of Everts Air flights are scheduled. Additionally, depending on the destination, Everts uses more than seven different types of aircraft.
“We have a diverse fleet because that gives us access to a variety of airports and also gives us scalability to meet the customer needs,” says Everts Air Cargo Director of Operations Zach Adams.
Everts Air Cargo McDonnell Douglas DC-9 landing to conduct cargo loading and unloading operations.
Photo by Timo Breidenstein/Everts Air Cargo
Love What You Do
Growing up in aviation Everts knew he always wanted to make it a business. After graduating from Embry Riddle and returning to Alaska, he knew he would stay.
“I’ve been all around the world, and Alaska has a hold on me just like it does most people. Being born and raised in the Interior, it’s just something that I figured I was always going to do and wanted to do—and haven’t changed since then,” Everts says.
In Everts’ case, as in the case of many business owners, he likes the aspect of working for himself and choosing the people he works with.
“I like to know at the end of the day if something didn’t go right, I have the ability to correct it or make changes, and I don’t have any reason to complain,” Everts says. “I can only complain to myself because I’m the one that steers the ship. And at the end of the day the buck stops here. Give me a call if things aren’t working.”
Everts’ says the heart and core of his business is the group of employees working for him across Alaska.
“We started off with a handful of people and today we have south of three hundred. It’s all about the hardworking Alaskans that work for me to take care of the business so the service is there for the customer,” Everts says. “I can’t say anything more than that. I’ve had the luxury of running into a very good group of people to come and work for me and stay working for me.”
Everts embraces a hands-on leadership style and talks to the employees involved in much of the company’s operations nearly every day, says Robert Ragar, vice president of Contractual Business at Everts Air Cargo, an employee with Everts Air Cargo since 1996.
“The owner of the company is accessible to every employee, and that means those successes and/or concerns are easily noted. They are not looked over or washed by the wayside. It’s a great benefit for everyone to have access to Rob,” Ragar says.
Everts makes his decisions for the long-term benefit of the company and its employees, Ragar says, and commends Everts for building confidence and retaining great employees in the company.
“Rob has never laid an employee off due to the seasonal changes of the workload,” Ragar says. “Other companies would probably lay employees off after things started to slow down, but Rob has never done that. Once we hire someone, we make a commitment to them, they have a job, and I always thought that was a good asset.”
Robert Everts (right) with his father Cliff Everts (left) in the cockpit of the first jet aircraft purchased by Everts Air Cargo. Taken in 2010.
Photo courtesy of Tatonduk Outfitters Limited
Everts Air has seen slow and steady growth over the years from $40.5 million in gross revenues in 2009 to $53.15 gross revenues in 2014. Everts says the company’s next task will be to re-fleet the business to be able to take care of its customers and expand its operations.
“Beyond Alaska, we offer on-demand cargo services abroad and that’s a developing opportunity for the company. We’ll continue to look at that as a way of diversifying and emerging out of the state,” Everts says.
Along with growth comes challenges, and Everts says simply operating in Alaska may be challenging at times, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. A major effort in cargo and flight service operations is the compliance output required by the highly regulated environment in the aviation industry, Everts says.
“Regulations and how they are interpreted continually changes whether we’re talking about FAA, EPA, DEC, OSHA—there’s so much involved with each agency as it pertains to our business that it certainly stands out as a priority and one of the larger challenges,” Everts says.
On top of that, Everts says finding a reliable workforce while continuing to enhance customer service and grow the organization is crucial for a sustainable business.
“The marketplace is changing, the workforce is changing, my experience is that many of the younger generation do not embrace the hard work ethic that the older generation did, so that’s one of our challenges, but I also see it as a new opportunity to change ourselves,” Everts says. “We’re continuing to change with the business, and the environment around us, and the new young workforce. The goal for the future is to create a nimble business that can respond and make changes quickly without being cast in its old ways and the old model. And we’re certainly prepared to step up to the challenge.”
Russ Slaten is an Associate Editor at Alaska Business Monthly.
This article first appeared in the October 2015 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.