Alaska-based regional operator GCI is initiating its annual refueling of 22 mountaintop towers in remote areas of Alaska. The initiative is necessary because the towers – which are part of the Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska (TERRA) network — are in some of the state’s rugged western and northwestern terrain.

They are off the grid and reachable only by helicopter. All told, GCI crews will make more than 200 round trips this summer to deliver about 102,000 gallons of diesel fuel to support TERRA, which is a $300 million infrastructure project that serves 45,000 Alaskans in 84 rural communities.

Deliveries are made in a Huey helicopter fit with a specialized bladder and overseen by technicians who take special care to respect the environment, wildlife and subsistence hunting. The helicopters fly at least 1,500 feet above ground, if whether permits, and adjust routes if caribou or other animals are seen near the site.

It’s an arduous task. Repeater sites have one or two 4,500 gallon tanks. Since the diesel payloads are 410 to 440 gallons, sites require as many as 16 runs to complete refueling.

GCI, which serves more than 200 communities in the state, purchases fuel from Alaskan companies and works with local businesses on the TERRA refueling project. The company expects refueling to be completed by mid-October.

GCI TERRA Huey Refueling Helicopter (Source: GCI)

“Local partners like Bering Air and Yukon Helicopters play a key role in keeping rural Alaska connected,” Senior Director of GCI Facilities & Rural Network Operations JD Schultz said in a press release about the TERRA refueling project. “And working with local pilots who know the terrain and the challenges that go along with it helps ensure that we can safely and efficiently complete this project every year.”

Last month, GCI said that it would bring 2 Gbps speeds to 77% of the state next year and 10 Gbps service within the next five years. Communities that will get the 2 Gbps service include Anchorage, Eagle River, Girdwood, Fairbanks, Fort Greely, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, Kodiak, North Pole, Palmer, Petersburg, Seward, Soldotna, Sitka, Valdez, Wasilla and Wrangell.

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