St. Paul Island fears losing air service in Ravn purchase

Credit KUCB / John Ryan

St. Paul Island could lose all air service starting Thursday and the city fears it will not return until Ravn Alaska’s airplanes are certified to fly over open water.

Ravn Alaska purchased PenAir this fall at auction for $12.3 million more than a year after the aviation company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“We’re in a situation where [because] the transition and possibly no planes available to PenAir Ravn to fly out to St. Paul, that we’re going to have a lapse in service,” said St. Paul Island City Manager Philip Zavadil.

A statement from Ravn said they found out Dec. 13 that the Saab 340 they planned to lease from former PenAir CEO Danny Seybert to fly to St. Paul will not be available, but they are working to get their aircraft certified to fly to the island as soon as possible.

Between now and February — when Raven’s Dash 8’s are expected to be certified to fly over water by the Federal Aviation Administration — Zavadil said there are nearly 500 passengers scheduled to fly to and from St. Paul Island.

For the past two days, community leaders from St. Paul have been in talks with the U.S. Department of Transportation as well as Ravn and PenAir in an effort to keep their flights running over the holidays.

“I find it unfortunate that the community’s been put in this position,” Zavadil said. “That we’re the ones that are having to address this, and make calls, and find out what’s going on when the airline is the one that has the legal responsibility to provide the service.”

Zavadil said Trident Seafoods has already set up charters to fly in about 240 workers for the snow crab season and St. Paul Leadership is exploring that option as well to ensure community members can travel over the holidays.

The attorney for the trustee overseeing the PenAir sale, Michael Markham said, “as always, it is the intention that the route to St. Paul will continue uninterrupted.”

The aim is to finalize the sale by the end of the year.

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Zoe Sobel is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk based in Unalaska. As a high schooler in Portland, Maine, Zoë Sobel got her first taste of public radio at NPR’s easternmost station. From there, she moved to Boston where she studied at Wellesley College and worked at WBUR, covering sports for Only A Game and the trial of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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