This summer, GCI-deployed specialty helicopters will make approximately 220 trips to remote towers in Western Alaska to ensure GCI’s TERRA network can deliver high-speed broadband to rural communities in the region for the next 18 months.
The specialized helicopters only have a narrow window of time to deliver the fuel, and delivery is critical in order to power the network that keeps Western Alaska clinics, schools and community residents connected to the internet.
Far from power grids and urban sprawl, situated in some of the state’s most-rugged terrain, reachable only by helicopter, these towers must be able to stay running, largely unattended, for months at a time.
Each mountaintop repeater site has one or two 4,500 gallon tanks that hold enough fuel to power it for more than 15 months. Keeping those tanks full and towers running requires a massive annual refueling effort that distributes about 90,000 gallons of fuel between 22 mountaintop TERRA towers. GCI purchases the fuel from Alaska companies and works with local businesses throughout the process.
“We work with Bering Air and Yukon Helicopters,” said Hugh Forbes, director, Rural Network Operations. “These are local businesses and aircraft flown by local pilots who know the area and what it takes to work with the weather and territory to safely and efficiently deliver their payload.”
The Arctic diesel fuel is hauled in between 410 and 440 gallons at a time by helicopter. Refueling each site takes as many as 16 different trips up the mountain.
The TERRA – or Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska – network is a massive $300 million GCI infrastructure project serving 45,000 Alaskans in 84 rural communities.
The annual refueling project, which GCI expects to be complete by September, costs approximately $1.5 million, with the majority going into local economies.