Juneau-based Alaska Seaplanes is adding a new daily circuit that will connect itka, Wrangell and Petersburg.
The company says it aims to begin flying the route on May 26. The daily flights will leave Sitka at 1 p.m., touching down in Petersburg and Wrangell before returning to Sitka by 3 p.m.
Alaska Seaplanes already has flights to and from Petersburg and Sitka, but Wrangell is the new addition — the fifteenth Southeast community the company will serve.
“There’s a lot of travel that goes on, commerce and people that go back and forth between Wrangell and a lot of other communities in Southeast, especially Sitka Petersburg,” Kline says, “So there’s been a need for a long time.”
Alaska Seaplanes started twice-daily flights between Petersburg and Juneau a little over a year ago.
Wrangell is served by twice-daily Alaska Airlines jets — one northbound, one southbound. Alaska Seaplanes won’t be operating on that kind of scale.
“Our planes are nine-passenger planes, so it’s a very small segment, but it’s a needed segment,” Kline says, “Especially when we’re talking about medical transport for people. Sometimes that very direct route is really a lifeline for people to get the medical attention they need.”
Kline says the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, which owns and operates Wrangell’s hospital, had asked the company to look into setting up a route linking Wrangell and Sitka, where SEARHC is headquartered.
“They’ve had this request in to us for a while now, and we just had to — as you can imagine, there’s a lot to work through to get airplanes into scheduled service into a community,” Kline says.
Alaska Seaplanes owns the smallest building at Wrangell’s small airport, a brown-and-white trailer. As of now, it’s pretty much empty. It used to be the U.S. Customs Office.
“That [building] right now looks kind of retro-60s,” said Andy Kline, the marketing manager for Alaska Seaplanes, “But we’re gonna try to update it and get it ready for service as we build towards this Wrangell service.”
Despite its name, Alaska Seaplanes operates mostly wheel-based turboprops.
“Every time we get to a new route, it’s really like starting a new business,” Kline said. “You have to get people there, train them up, and we’re having discussions as basic as ‘We need stairs,’ ‘What vehicle should we have there,’ [getting a] de-icer, all that stuff goes into starting up, even for just a one-stop daily route.”
Kline says the route will be run by one of two planes. One could be the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan.
“They’re really a great versatile airplane, especially for conditions in Southeast Alaska,” Kline explains. “They can take off and land in shorter conditions and with lower visibility than a lot of other airplanes.”
The airline also operates Pilatus PC-12s which are faster — Kline describes them as the Ferraris of the Alaska Seaplanes fleet — flying 300 mph with pressurized cabins.
Both planes carry nine passengers, but either way, it’ll be less than an hour’s flying time between legs.
Alaska Seaplanes hasn’t published its new fares yet.
“We want our pricing to be competitive,” Kline says, “So we’re still working on that. The pricing will be a little dynamic.”
Other than office preparations, Kline says everything else is pretty much in place to begin running flights on May 26.
“We’ll get the shag carpeting out of [the trailer],” Kline says with a laugh, “I don’t know, maybe we’ll keep the shag — we’ll see what kind of condition it’s in.”
In addition to Alaska Airlines jet service, Wrangell also has one air charter, Sunrise Aviation, but it doesn’t run flights on a set schedule.