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By MATT ARMSTRONG
Daily News Staff Writer
Starting May 1, for the first time since the 1990s, there will be regular air service between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
Misty Fjords Air & Outfitting Inc., co-owned by Dave Doyon Sr. and Dave Doyon Jr., will fly three scheduled roundtrip flights per week between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert. The Doyons and representatives of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce and the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau met with members of the City of Prince Rupert government and the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce in Canada on Wednesday to talk about the new flight service.
Flights will leave from the company’s Seaplane Base — just south of U.S. Coast Guard Base Ketchikan — early on Monday and Wednesday mornings and Friday afternoons, make the approximately 45-minute flight to Prince Rupert, offload passengers and cargo, load anyone or anything getting on in Prince Rupert, and make the return flight to Ketchikan, according to Dave Doyon Jr.
It will be about a 15- to 30-minute turnaround time in Prince Rupert.
The flight schedule was built, in part, around the Alaska Marine Highway System’s ferry schedule between the two cities, Doyon said during a Wednesday morning meeting at Prince Rupert’s City Hall.
“Passengers will have both options, and if there’s any delays or unforeseen weather events that happen, the fallback is there — the old reliable — and we’ll be pushing hard to get the word circulated to make it happen,” Dave Doyon Jr. said.
“There’s so many opportunities down here that people from Ketchikan just don’t really realize, and vice-versa perhaps,” he added. “I think if we can promote weekend travel and some of these international destinations — we’re really excited that Air Canada is coming in here so often — and that, as time goes on, it would be really nice to offer that connection and have the opportunity to go to Vancouver and different places and enjoy both towns.”
Jerry Scudero, a founder of Taquan Air, said Wednesday that Taquan stopped doing regular flights between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert in the late 1990s.
During the meeting at City Hall, Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain and Manager of Transportation and Economic Development Paul Vendittelli both described the time-consuming and expensive process of getting to Alaska and expressed hope that the planned flights will increase commerce between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert.
“If you’re heading somewhere into Canada, why not make this the point of entry?” Vendittelli said. “We have customs here, it’s a short hop, (and) we have the entire world available to us from here through the Air Canada network. It makes sense to come through here.”
Brain later added that the two communities used to have a stronger connection in things ranging from tourism to high school sports to the BC Winter Games.
“I was jokingly saying (that) we should renew our vows as a sister city,” Brain said, adding that recent industrial and commercial growth in Prince Rupert could be good for both that city and the new flight service.
“One thing we’ve been trying to toy with is, ‘How do we recreate this relationship with Alaska?’” Brain said. “The ferry situation, I think, has kind of dampered the mood. ... We’re actually doing a whole delegation to Ottawa (Canada’s capital) to lobby both federal governments to try to figure out a solution with the ferry.”
Brain added that the Prince Rupert community is excited for the service.
The flights also offer the chance for Alaska Natives and First Nations persons in Canada to have better interactions, according to Dave Doyon Jr.
“It’s nice to be able to offer that service to people who want to go to Haida Gwaii, to the different villages here, and be able to connect with the (BC) ferry,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people from Prince of Wales (Island) and Hydaburg can’t visit their relatives on Haida Gwaii because it’s not cost-effective. ... It’s a lot of travel, especially when you have a family.”
Dave Doyon Sr., in an interview Tuesday, also stressed how Ketchikan and Prince Rupert used to be connected, as well as the close ties to the Natives and First Nations communities.
“Transportation is the key to cities linking up together,” Dave Doyon Sr. said. “It’s like having a highway between cities.”
In Wednesday’s meeting, Brain asked if the floatplanes will still fly if there aren’t passengers booked that day.
“The fundamental idea is (that) the plane comes and goes regardless of the ridership. There are no passenger minimums, Dave Doyon Jr. said, adding that the appropriate size floatplane — small, medium or large — will be sent depending on the job. “That’s the whole idea behind it, is to offer a consistent product that people can rely on.”
The company will aim to keep its costs down, and to have various promotions and deals to reduce ticket prices to “something palatable,” according to Dave Doyon Jr.
“There’s nothing cheap about coming to Canada, I’ll come right out and say that,” he said. “The customs and navigation fees and the different things that we incur, we absorb most of that. But the fare is going to be structured to where there are no (passenger) minimums and people can do it for a reasonable price.”
Prices for Canadians also will depend on how the Canadian dollar fares compared to the U.S. dollar.
Misty Fjords Air & Outfitting Inc. hopes to keep prices around $250, or $350 Canadian, before discounts, according to Dave Doyon Jr.
Brain said that, on a recent trip to Alaska, it was almost $4,000 Canadian to charter a plane for five people.
“This is wonderful news,” Brain said. “I think that’s going to be a great price point. It’s very doable.”
Since international travel is involved, U.S. passengers must have a valid passport.
Dave Doyon Jr. said on Tuesday that they’d like to have passport information by at least the day before a trip, and that passengers will be able to enter their passport information on the company’s online booking system, send a photo of their passport, fax or phone in the information.