Yakutia Airlines Cancellation: 2019 Fishing Season Will Be Impacted
[by Don Causey, Founder and Editor Emeritus .]
If you are among the more than 300-plus anglers planning to fish the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia next year, your plans just got more complicated. Seems the ultra-convenient air service between Anchorage and Petropavlask has been abruptly cancelled for the 2019 season. Unless a new provider of air service emerges, this leaves booked anglers with the alternative of flying through Seoul, South Korea, or through Moscow to reach Kamchatka. Both alternatives have drawbacks and during previous periods when direct air service was not available, a substantial number of anglers chose to cancel their trips.
As for the stated cause of the air-service cancellation, it stems from a runway issue at Yakutsk Airport in Russia, according to a press release we received November 2 from IPAM (Inter-Pacific Aviation and Marketing Inc.), the entity that put together the near-flawless Yukutia air service that has served the angling travel community well for more than a decade. Seems the kind of plane Yakutia Airlines uses on the route cannot land on the shorter runway that will be available in 2019 during an ongoing construction project. That caused Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) to cancel Yakutia Airlines’ authorization to fly the route, referring to the action as a “ban” that “prevents the airline from operating on the Anchorage – Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky route.” The release goes on to note that the airport in Yakutsk will be “undergoing runway repairs for the duration of the 2019 summer construction season, and fully-laden Boeing 737-800 aircraft – such as those chartered by IPAM for the Alaska-Kamchatka service – will be prohibited from operating there. We must therefore announce, with deep regret, that the Alaska-Russian Far East Service that IPAM/AirRussia established in partnership with Yakutia Airlines will not operate in the summer of 2019. IPAM/AirRussia has been unable to reach an agreement with other qualified carriers to perform the service.”
As bad as all this sounds there are some positive elements to consider. First, the cancellation of air service this time did not have to do with inadequate traffic, which was at the root of previous closures. In fact, traffic on this route has been good, and growing, in recent years. By all reports, the consortium that put the Yakutia service together was pleased with the financial results. This increases the chances that another carrier will emerge in time for the 2019 season. As regards the timing of this cancellation announcement, it is far better than the last one, which was announced on the eve of the fishing season. That left the three agents who book Kamchatka (The Fly Shop, The Best of Kamchatka, Ouzel Expeditions) in a very expensive bind. Reached as this was written, The Fly Shop owner, Mike Michalak, says he dug into company and personal funds back then to the tune of $440,000 to make all his clients whole. The other two agents had not called us back at press time to divulge how much they owed back then and how they handled their obligations to clients, as well as their plans for the 2019 season.
As for The Fly Shop’s plans for 2019, the representative we spoke with was clearly surprised by the sudden air service cancellation development but was still bullish on the long-term situation. He says Kamchatka fishing has been one of the most successful fly fishing programs The Fly Shop ever created. Nearly 75 percent of Kamchatka clients have been repeating annually in recent years, he said, and the backlog of would-be clients is growing. Months before the season begins, he says The Fly Shop has 249 clients lined up, ready to go for 2019, but at this point most have sent paid only a small $1,000 good-faith deposit. If no new carrier emerges, he said The Fly Shop is fully prepared to refund (or reschedule) everyone, and he was putting that promise into a letter to all booked and would-be booked clients when we reached him. Given the loyalty of his Kamchatka following, he was cautiously optimistic that most clients would still want to go to Kamchatka even if they have to get there via Seoul, South Korea (which takes an extra day), or via Moscow (which also takes an extra day, plus it involves a very long flight clear across Russia). Indeed, The Fly Shop was able to operate a very successful Kamchatka program during previous service interruptions.
Understandably, two days after the surprise cancellation news, The Fly Shop was not ready to provide clear guidance on its 2019 plans. Booked clients should wait for his letter to receive that. In the meantime, there is indeed a realistic possibility that another carrier will emerge to operate the Anchorage/Petropavlask flight service in time for the 2019 season. Better yet, there is some speculation that a new carrier may be open to the prospect of flying directly from Seattle to Petropavlask, instead of from Anchorage. That would make the “world’s best trout fishing” (which is how many returning anglers describe the Kamchatka fishery) even more easily accessible than it has been in recent years. Stay tuned for updates on this important development.