Alaska Seaplanes has decided to shut down its Wrangell and Petersburg operations, citing poor economics. Its last flights to the communities are scheduled for Oct. 31.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t financially sustainable with the ridership,” Carl Ramseth, general manager, said Thursday, Oct. 5. “It hurts to pull out of those two communities.”
Alaska Seaplanes started scheduled service into Petersburg in spring 2021, with daily flights from Juneau, and added a Sitka-Petersburg-Wrangell-Sitka flight in May 2022.
The air service, which was founded in 1997 and is based in Juneau, operates a fleet of more than a dozen single-engine aircraft able to carry as many as nine passengers plus freight.
Though canceling its flights to Wrangell and Petersburg, the company will continue its year-round scheduled service from Juneau to Skagway, Haines, Gustavus, Hoonah, Kake, Klawock, Sitka, Angoon, Tenakee Springs and Pelican.
Passengers loads into Wrangell and Petersburg were lighter than needed for the economics to work out, Ramseth said, but the lack of revenue from freight and U.S. mail really added to the problem.
“The challenges we faced by not having UPS and U.S. mail to produce the revenues to maintain the scheduled service” were a major factor in the decision to stop flying into the two communities, he said.
Unlike Haines, for example, where Alaska Seaplanes hauls a lot of revenue-generating mail and cargo, UPS contracts with Anchorage-based ACE Air Cargo to deliver to Wrangell and Petersburg, and Alaska Airlines brings an all-cargo Boeing 737 into the two towns on a weekly basis.
The last day for passenger service will be Oct. 31. Alaska Seaplanes will stop accepting freight to or from the two communities after Oct. 28, to ensure they can move any cargo before the shutdown if weather interferes with the flight schedule, Ramseth said.
The company is the latest of several that have tried, unsuccessfully, to bring scheduled, small-plane service to Wrangell and Petersburg over the past 40 years.
Seaplanes has two part-time employees in Wrangell and one full-time and two part-time workers in Petersburg. The company had run two Juneau-Petersburg nonstop, round-trip flights before scaling back recently to a single daily flight.
Ramseth said the airline would look at bringing back scheduled service to the communities in the future if the economics change. Meanwhile, the company will continue to offer charter services.
Providing scheduled service between Wrangell and SEARHC medical facilities in Sitka was a big reason the airline started flying the route in 2022.
“One of our anchor (clients) is SEARHC,” Andy Kline, marketing manager for Alaska Seaplanes, said last spring. “They’ve been wanting to have more connectivity between Wrangell and Sitka, especially with the new (medical) facility (in Wrangell).”
With the loss of the Alaska Seaplanes direct flight, travelers between the two SEARHC facilities will need to use Alaska Airlines and connect in either Ketchikan or Juneau.
The only other time Seaplanes stopped scheduled service to a community was three years ago, Ramseth said, when COVID-19 travel restrictions in Canada forced it to end its service between Juneau and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The company has not restarted service to the Canadian community.