Port Alexander lands new float plane service for ‘essential’ Sitka connection

Kevin Mulligan and “Betsy”, his Cessna 185, at the float plane dock in Sitka earlier this month. Mulligan has been flying around Southeast Alaska for several decades. (Photo by Ari Snider/KCAW)

After several weeks without scheduled flights, Port Alexander, a town of about 50 people on the southern end of Baranof Island, once again has a consistent air link to Sitka.

When Sitka-based Harris Air stopped flying in September, Port Alexander temporarily lost its Essential Air Service flight. That’s a federal transportation program that subsidizes flights to remote communities and is widely used throughout Alaska.

The ferry doesn’t stop in Port Alexander, and chartering a plane can be prohibitively expensive. So residents rely on the EAS flight to get to medical appointments, connect to other forms of transportation, and stock up on groceries. Either that or the all-day run to Sitka in a fishing boat.

Joe Girard says the gap in service left residents, including himself, with limited options.

“You spent a whole lot of money if you had to go, most people just tried not to go,” Girard said. “You could run the boat up if the weather permitted, but it was pretty tough weather and yeah, pretty much everyone just stayed home.”

The EAS flight is now back, thanks to Baranautica, a float plane company run by Kevin and Karen Mulligan. The husband and wife duo also operates a fishing lodge in Port Alexander.

While Baranautica is a new venture for the Mulligans, the EAS flight is not Kevin’s only gig. Today, he’s taking two passengers and several hundred pounds of concrete mix over to the Hidden Falls hatchery. 

Mulligan has several decades of experience flying around Southeast. Between his regular charter flights and the EAS service, he and his Cessna 185 are staying busy.

“We have a EAS flight scheduled for tomorrow which we’ll probably have to push that back to Saturday,” Mulligan said. “I’ve gotta pick up a family out of Baranof Warm Springs and fly them back, and I’ve gotta get someone who had to go to the doctor back to Port Armstrong and then I’ve got NSRAA flights once a week supporting the Mist Cove crew.”

The roundtrip EAS flights are scheduled for Monday and Friday, weather permitting. Tickets are $150 each way. Baranautica’s contract runs through September 2021.

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