Air North to return for limited summer service

Whitehorse airline couldn't sustain winter link with few passengers

Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2004

The president and founder of Air North in Whitehorse said it's unfortunate the airline has had to cut the year-round link between the Yukon and Alaska capitals, but flights will resume on a lesser schedule for summer.

Joe Sparling said he plans to restart the Whitehorse-Juneau run in June, minus one weekly flight. In the meantime, there aren't enough passengers to justify service.

"Is it going to impact a lot of people? Not really," he said, adding that passenger numbers have been declining for five years.

But while the numbers of people flying has declined, some say the link was important. The two cities are not just capitals of the North. They are official sister cities, said Juneau City Clerk Laurie Sica. "It's a nice place to go and get away for the weekend."

Air North, which provided the only regular international service at Juneau International Airport, has served Juneau since the mid-1980s, Sparling said. Recently, it provided service between the cities three times a week during the summer - June 1 to Sept. 15 - and twice a week the remainder of the year. Generally the airline serves Juneau with a 12- or 40-seat turboprop airplane.

At the beginning of the month, Sparling discontinued the non-summer service. He said he is planning only twice-weekly service for next summer.

Juneau resident Doak Walker, who worked for Air North for 13 years, said he is sorry to see the service go, but he understands the decision. He recalled times when an Air North plane would come in with just one passenger and leave with none. The plane was flown by two pilots, he added. Other times scheduled flights were canceled because no one had booked in either direction.

"There is not a lot of traffic," Sparling said.

In the best of times, he could see about 2,300 passengers a year, he said. With more than 2,000 passengers, the route could make a profit.

Recently, though, it's been around 1,500 passengers a year, Sparling said. "It really is a leisure travel market."

Walker, a former Whitehorse resident and president of the Mountain View Golf Course there, said people travel to golf in Whitehorse during the summer. As a former chairman of the sister-city committee with Whitehorse, he said there are off-season events that make Whitehorse worth visiting.

"People go up for the Winter Rendezvous," he said. Before that February event, people from Whitehorse would come down in January to put on a weekend show in Juneau.

"They can't come this year," he said. Driving to Skagway and taking the ferry adds too much time to the trip, he said, and sometimes the mountain passes are unpassable during the winter.

Walker also mentioned major dart tournaments in Whitehorse in February and April.

Sparling said U.S. fees, which add $38.40 onto the price of tickets to Juneau, may be a problem for a weekend getaway. But he said he has a great relationship with Juneau's airport.

According to Air North's Web site, flying into Vancouver, B.C., is only $78.69 more expensive than flying into Juneau, before the U.S. entry fees are added, based on the current exchange rate.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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