Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wings of Alaska makes push for stronger community ties

There has been a little turbulence since the October sale of Wings of Alaska to Fjord Flying Service, but the new staff is continuing to work out the kinks.

Aldwin Harder has only been the manager of the new company for a few months, but he’s got a clear vision of where he wants the business to go.

“Haines is a market that we’d like to serve better,” Harder said.

Harder was meeting with businesses and residents recently in Haines.

In October, Wings was sold by its parent company, SeaPort Airlines, out of Portland.

Gustavus-based Fjord Flying Service, a charter business, bought Wings.

The joint company still offers charters from the Fjord side and scheduled commuter flights from Wings of Alaska.

“We’re basically a brand new company that started in 2016,” Harder said. “We’ve combined the assets now and have formed a new airline specifically to serve the local villages of Hoonah, Haines, Skagway, Gustavus and the city of Juneau.”

Since the sale, the transition has been a little rough, Harder said.

Fewer planes and scaled back service caused some customers to balk.

With the two airlines’ business strategies and methods melding more and more, the day to day is progressing a little more smoothly, he said.

“Currently we’re operating four total aircrafts, soon to be five,” Harder said. “We have three (Cessna) 207s and two 206s – one of the 207s is in the rebuilding process and will be out later on in the summer. They all fly VFR (visual fight rules), weather permitting. Safety is always our first goal.”

The fall sale of Wings to Fjord included all ground assets, but not the planes.

The new company exclusively serves Southeast Alaska.

All the owners – there are a handful scattered around Southeast – are focused on creating a “family” of employees and clients, Harder said.

“I think what sets us apart is out local service, our local ownership, the ability to address the problems that happen on a very personal level,” he said.

At the Haines office, station manager Marlene Wilson agreed that there was a little turmoil when the transition first got underway, but mostly because people thought the airline shut down.

“They still come in in disbelief that we’re here,” she said. “We never have closed our doors, we’ve always been open. We just went from one owner to another.”

After Wings was sold, the business did lose its nine-plane fleet, getting three smaller planes instead.

For the first little while, Wilson said, they were just flying charters but they never stopped flying completely. The company is doing scheduled flights and freight again, but it no longer operates the mail flights.

Wilson said now, in the midst of a busy summer, things are going well. The online reservations option is up and running, and more planes have been added to the roster.

“Basically, we’re started brand new, as if we’re a brand new company starting out because of the rumors and people just now realizing that we’re still in service.”

Wings of Alaska has been operating in Southeast for 30 years.

It, along with Alaska Seaplanes, offers multiple daily flights between Haines and Skagway, and other communities in the region.

They plan to expand, but they just need to get through the winter first, Wilson said.

“Our main focus right now is just to deal with our passengers, and get our passengers back on board,” she said.


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