2019-02-09 / News

Changes Come to Air Travel This Winter; Fresh Air Offers Flights

By Stephanie Fortino

Houses in the Stonecliffe area are dusted with snow January 31. Houses in the Stonecliffe area are dusted with snow January 31. Traveling to the mainland in winter can be by ferry, airplane, or snowmobile, as Mackinac Island residents and commuters adapt throughout the season. A weekend cold snap caused Star Line to stop ferry service Sunday, January 20, and while Great Lakes Air’s new ownership works toward federal certification following the federal government shutdown, Fresh Air Aviation of Charlevoix is offering regular flights between Mackinac Island and St. Ignace.

Fresh Air has a twin engine aircraft stationed at the Mackinac County Airport and will offer daily flights, weather depending. Owners Keith and Rachel Teague traveled to Mackinac Island Wednesday, January 16, to meet with business owners and learn the nuances of providing air service to the Island. Flights through Fresh Air should be scheduled in advance, Mrs. Teague told The St. Ignace News, and people should call (231) 237-9482 to schedule a flight. Individual flights will cost $45 one way with 50 pounds of luggage. Freight will cost an additional 30¢ a pound beyond the 50- pound limit. Group and business rates are also available.

At right: Fresh Air Aviation owners Keith and Rachel Teague provide passenger flights from the mainland to Mackinac and Bois Blanc islands. At right: Fresh Air Aviation owners Keith and Rachel Teague provide passenger flights from the mainland to Mackinac and Bois Blanc islands. Poor weather conditions from snow, ice, and fog hampered flights in late January and early February. Fresh Air offers e-mail and text message alerts about the status of flights; to sign-up, visit https://mobile-text-alerts.com/subscribe/ mackinacfreshair .

While the company will accept walk-up passengers, Mrs. Teague encouraged travelers to call well in advance to set up a flight time.

“The sooner you call,” she said, “the more flexible the schedule will be.”

When scheduling flights with Fresh Air, passengers should have their name, phone number, e-mail address, and weight ready. Each passenger will have a profile with the company, and flights will be arranged based on weight.

In the weeks leading up to the end of the ferry season, many Island residents questioned whether there would be flights from Mackinac County Airport. In December, Great Lakes Air, the longtime air service provider to Mackinac and Bois Blanc islands that recently came under new ownership, underwent a restructuring that resulted in the owners suspending air service temporarily. Since the Federal Aviation Administration must certify both planes and pilots to operate commercially, the company is stymied from flying because FAA operations were stalled during the federal shutdown that ended January 25. The planes and pilots should be certified soon.

On Mackinac Island, ensuring residents have access to flights has been a main priority of Mayor Margaret Doud and the rest of the city council. At each council meeting, Mayor Doud gave updates on how people could schedule flights, as ice began forming on Lake Huron, threatening ferry passage. While there are medical services and resources available on the Island, residents need access to the mainland for of appointments, emergencies, or other situations.

Wintertime on the Island is also the main construction season, when business owners and contractors try to get as much work done as possible before the tourist season begins. Businesses and residents rely on a large traveling workforce of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, and other skilled laborers from the mainland, many of whom work on the Island during the week, before returning home for the weekend.

The city council’s Transportation Committee has met multiple times about winter airplane service, including the most recent meeting Tuesday, January 15, when the city council solicited pricing information from both Fresh Air and Island Airways. The committee outlined the Island’s basic needs, including the approximately 250 workers who travel from St. Ignace each Monday. Also attending were Larry Belonga of Belonga Excavating and Stan Antkoviak of Mission

Point Resort. Mr. Antkoviak has 65 workers who travel to the Island for construction and maintenance jobs at Mission Point Resort each week.

Fresh Air is working with businesses to develop a schedule to shuttle the commuting workforce to the Island in waves to help alleviate congestion at the airport. While addressing the city council Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Teague said the company plans to give each passenger a scheduled flight time, which will eliminate the long waits caused by the previous first-come, first-served flight schedule. On the busiest of days, Fresh Air will have staff members at Mackinac Island Airport to help guide passengers to the proper airplanes, he added.

Since this is the first time in recent memory that Mackinac Island has had more than one company offer flights to the mainland, some passengers have been unsure about which plane to board. City council member Dennis Bradley, who recently retired as the assistant airport manager on the Island, said having airline staff on the Island will be important to inform passengers. A Fresh Air staff person will be on hand in the lobby of Mackinac County Airport in St. Ignace to greet customers and guide them to the correct airplane.

Since the airport in St. Ignace is owned by Mackinac County, any airline can use its facilities. Great Lakes Air still holds the contract with the county to operate the facility, and it continues to rent office space there and staff the front desk.

Paul Fullerton is the manager of Mackinac County Airport.

Freight Service Ends

Freight trips to Mackinac Island have ended for the winter season, as Shepler’s Sacre Bleu and Arnold Freight’s Corsair made their last runs Friday, January 18.

Since the beginning of 2019, the crew at Shepler’s has been monitoring the ice on Moran Bay at St. Ignace with St. Ignace’s U.P. Pond Hockey Championship in mind, said company president Chris Shepler. Throughout January, he kept Pond Hockey organizer Mark Sposito up to date on whether the Corsair would continue to run. While there was still vast open water in early January, Shepler’s continued making trips to Mackinac Island. That changed the week of January 14, however, when the area was blasted with cold arctic air.

“We took a good look at the weather and saw that last weekend was going to be really cold,” Mr. Shepler said Thursday, January 24.

The company then decided it would stop running before the weekend, and the crew notified their customers on the Island so they could plan. Mr. Shepler said the company wanted to help ensure the bay would freeze in time for Pond Hockey, which begins Friday, January 15.

“That decision-making was with Pond Hockey in mind,” Mr. Shepler said.

Arnold Freight stopped running Friday because of ice conditions, said general manager Veronica Dobrowolski. Arnold Freight operates between Dock 3 in St. Ignace and the Coal Dock at Mackinac Island. Saturday, January 19, crews attempted to move the Corsair from the Favorite Dock in St. Ignace to Dock 3 to load up for the Island, but the boat couldn’t make it because thick ice had blown in, she said.

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