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St. Paul Island passenger air service in limbo ahead of the holidays, snow crab season

(KTUU)
Published: Dec. 20, 2018 at 9:35 PM AKST
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Scheduled passenger air service to and from St. Paul Island is in limbo after the relationship between former PenAir CEO Danny Seybert and Ravn Alaska deteriorated last week, with the remote Bering Sea community of St. Paul Island caught in the middle.

Service was expected to be interrupted Thursday, but is now expected to continue through Sunday.

On Wednesday, St. Paul Island City Manager Phillip Zavadil issued a statement saying that normally scheduled passenger service was likely to cease Thursday after negotiations between Danny Seybert of PenAir, and Ravn Air Group, which

, broke down.

A statement from PenAir confirmed that last Wednesday, Seybert's employment had been terminated, and the following day, Seybert began attempts to ground and repossess his Saab 340 aircraft — the only aircraft operated by PenAir certified for extended overwater operating capabilities needed to make the flight to St. Paul Island.

On Tuesday, PenAir reportedly notified the Bankruptcy Court-appointed Trustee assigned to the company that Seybert had "directed a critical Saab 340 engine vendor to stop providing required support and safety-related engine information for the aircraft," according to the PenAir statement.

Zavadil told KTUU Thursday night that the Dept. of Transportation is in conversations with the PenAir Trustee, working to come to a deal with Seybert to lease the Saab 340 until Ravn's Dash 8 aircraft are FAA certified for extended overwater operations. A pitching demonstration as part of that certification has been scheduled for Jan. 22, and that flights to St. Paul with the Dash 8 wouldn't begin until Feb. 3.

During that time, Zavadil says 500 passengers scheduled to make flights to and from the island are in limbo, with snow crab season and regular travel driving demand.

PenAir had previously planned to lease the Saab 340 aircraft from Seybert to continue service to St. Paul after the Chapter 11 asset sale.

A family-owned business, PenAir has been flying in Alaska for 67-years. The air carrier

.

This isn't the first time St. Paul Island has faced the prospect of losing passenger air service from PenAir.

A week after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, PenAir

for McGrath, St. George and St. Paul Island.

At the time, Seybert told KTUU the decision was meant to trigger the process of bringing federal Dept. of Transportation subsidies to the table.

Shortly after that announcement, U.S. DOT issued an order

to those locations.

Because there are no other air carriers in the three villages, the federal government added those communities to a network of 60 others in Alaska subsidized under the Essential Air Service (EAS) Program.

As a result, PenAir is now legally obligated to provide service to St. Paul Island as an EAS carrier.

In the meantime, St. Paul Island leaders have been reaching out to Alaska's congressional delegation, the Dunleavy administration, and the owners of Ravn and PenAir to keep flights coming.

This is a developing story.

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