More than a half-century after getting started in the air taxi business, PenAir wants to stop service to small villages and towns in Bush Alaska and focus instead on larger hub communities, a company official said Thursday.
As first reported by KAKN-FM, the Anchorage-based airline cites financial reasons for wanting to stop air taxi service to small communities in Southwest Alaska. The airline that began in 1955 serving the Bush now operates in 36 communities. Sixteen of those communities are non-hub destinations in Southwest Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, including Pilot Point, Chignik, Akutan, Egegik and King Cove.
CEO Daniel Seybert, the 51-year-old son of PenAir founder Orin Seybert, said that the air taxi service business has been shrinking for the last decade. He said not all the non-hub routes were losing money, but it has become increasingly obvious that getting out of the air taxi business would be financially best for the airline.
PenAir will continue service until another airline picks up the routes, he said.
"We will not abandon any community or customer out there," Sebert said.
He said he didn't know if any other carrier would be interested in picking up the routes.
If the Alaska Peninsula community of Chignik with about 70 full-time residents loses air service, it would have a devastating impact, said Sandra Stepanoff, the town's administration assistant. The town is only accessible by air or sea. PenAir provides daily service to Chignik. Ferry service is available from May to October.
"We really depend on PenAir," she said.
Chignik relies on PenAir to deliver the mail, Stepanoff said. Many of the town's goods arrive by air. And, she said, the town's elders need air service in case of medical emergency, a need Stepanoff knows well. She has asthma that can turn into pneumonia and was flown twice last year to Anchorage to be hospitalized.
If Chignik, which is 450 miles southwest of Anchorage, loses air service, Stepanoff said, her health problems would force her to "pack up and move out."
In June, PenAir began providing service on the East Coast. It picked up three routes out of Boston, one a New York destination and the other two in Maine.
"This airline has always changed," Seybert said.
The airline began 57 years ago by providing air taxi service between Pilot Point and Dillingham for medical patients.
By MARY PEMBERTON