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Southeast Alaska town of Gustavus down to one local airline as tourist season nears

The Gustavus Dray, a gas station and gift store, sits at the main intersection of town. Photographed May 2005. (Anne Raup / ADN archive)

With the abrupt closure of a local air carrier last month, the Southeast Alaska community of Gustavus and others around it are down to one air taxi service as tourist season approaches.

The loss of Wings of Alaska and its affiliated company, Fjord Flying Service, leaves a single local air carrier, Alaska Seaplanes, flying regularly scheduled routes.

Alaska Airlines also provides seasonal service in the summer, but Gustavus residents depend heavily on air taxi and state ferry services year round to get to Juneau to shop and do other errands.

Some residents are worried that the lack of competition will drive prices up.

"The community benefited from competition between the carriers. I'd have to say I hope we'll see anther carrier come in too," said former mayor and city council member Mike Taylor. "Of course Alaska Seaplanes does a fine job — no complaints here, but it's always nice to have variety and options."

Jane Olney-Sheahan, owner of the Bear Track Inn, said she had to scramble to book her guests on another regional carrier that doesn't normally serve Gustavus. The community of more than 400 people depends heavily on tourist traffic in the summer.

"There are a lot of lodges and bed-and-breakfasts here that depend on that air service," she said. "It's going to make it harder for people to get here and we don't want them to be discouraged."

Wings of Alaska and Fjord Flying Service officially shut down in March under unknown circumstances. Aldwin Harder, who managed the companies, did not return multiple calls and emails from Alaska Dispatch News.

Harder told the Juneau Empire that the decision was "primarily an economic one."

"This is a difficult business to make money in. A difficult business to be in," Harder told the Empire.

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