Despite challenges triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, longstanding Britten-Norman Islander operator, Island Airways, will take delivery of a fifth Islander aircraft in September 2021.
Image courtesy Britten-Norman
Island Airways is a unique 76-year-old family run business. The company serves Beaver Island's small community, which has a year-round population of 600. The operation is run by husband and wife, Angela and Paul Welke from Welke Airport, a privately owned public use airport on the Northeast side of the island. The company predominantly transports guests, freight and mail from Charlevoix to Beaver Island, Michigan, USA. In winter, Lake Michigan freezes, making flight the only connector between Beaver Island and mainland USA. During these months, the population becomes dependent on Island Airways for everything, including medical supplies, food and a medevac service.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a stark impact on Island Airways, as it has for the aviation sector in its entirety. Initial disruption saw a sharp decline in footfall, triggered by international and interstate travel bans. Early on in the pandemic a Beaver Island resident tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in Paul and Angela receiving a call requesting urgent medevac assistance. Despite the evacuation potentially exposing Paul to COVID-19, he flew the patient to hospital. The aircraft was met by a COVID-19 response team and the local fire department. For Island Airways, that was the moment the pandemic became real and the serious nature of it became clear. Since then, the company has implemented precautionary measures to mitigate risk, such as a pilot separation screen and specialist quick dry seat sanitiser spray.
At this stage the Island Airways team feared for the future of the airline. Since then a transformative change has occurred within the region’s tourism sector, a trade Beaver Island relies heavily upon. Domestic inter-state travel has risen almost exponentially. This has opened the island up to a new, more local market seeking respite and escape. This market change triggered the requirement for a fifth 260hp Islander.
The Islander will undergo an extensive programme of refurbishment works including: a new interior, paint scheme, BN landing gear and upgraded avionics. The avionics upgrade includes two multifunctional GI275 displays, along with a GTN750Xi NAV/COMM/GPS and GNC255. A cargo modification will also be installed to suit Island Airways increased freight requirement. The aircraft is in the passenger configuration but is easily reconfigurable for a variety of roles.
Angel Welke, President of Island Airways, stated: “The Islander is the perfect aircraft! There is no rival twin engine in existence. The flight from Beaver Island to Charlevoix is just 15 minutes and my husband, Paul, has over 15,000 hours flying the Islander; that’s how vital it is to our operation. For us, versatility is key. The Islander allows us to meet the unprecedented demands of an entire community. We can readily switch between roles, not only delivering lifeline freight and passenger services, but also providing a medevac service in the case of emergency. Paul and I are delighted to see demand increasing again, we look forward to serving this wonderful community even more efficiently with our new aircraft.”
William Hynett, President and CEO of Britten-Norman’s Miami based US division said: “To see Island Airways thriving amid a global pandemic is a true triumph, we are thrilled for everyone involved. The Islander has excelled in a variety of roles due to its low operating costs, versatility and robust design. We are really pleased to see Island Airways growing its fleet.”