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Islands must plan for loss of air service, mayor says

PUT-IN-BAY - With the Lake Erie islands facing a cutback in airline service this winter, Put-in-Bay Mayor John Blatt has this advice for residents: Stock up on supplies while you can.

Griffing Flying Service, Inc., announced last week that a pilot shortage would force it to reduce service between Sandusky and the Lake Erie islands. Griffing, the only charter air business that flies to South Bass Island, has lost three of its seven pilots since January.

“Tom Griffing gave us plenty of heads-up notice,” Mr. Blatt said. “I went to the village people and said, `Take a look at what you're going to need and order it now.' Get it while the boasts are still running.”

The mayor said islanders have become used to daily deliveries in the winter of such necessities as milk, bread, and toilet paper. Such shipments are likely to become less frequent.

“I'd guess that except for the little kids, we'll all have to shift to dried milk and make our own bread, which is probably better for all of us,” he said. “Understand, it's not a huge disaster, because we have a number of air boats on the island.”

In the winter, when much of Lake Erie freezes over, planes become the main mode of travel between the mainland and Put-in-Bay, Kelleys Island, and other islands.

Air boats can be used in emergencies and to ferry some supplies over the ice, but they're impractical for daily use, said Pat Chrysler, a Middle Bass Island resident and ice-fishing guide.

Mr. Chrysler said “100 percent” of his ice-fishing customers reach Middle Bass Island by plane, and that it would take too long for him to fetch them from the mainland with his air boat.

He's hopeful that Griffing will be able to find more pilots, or that another operator will step in.

“If they do cut service, it'll surely affect the island economy and our ice-fishing business. ... We'll just have to see,” Mr. Chrysler said. “It's a supply-and-demand country still, and I would think that somebody's going to go in there if there's a demand for it and take up the slack.”

Griffing isn't certain how many flights it will be able to offer. Mr. Blatt said the company indicated that South Bass Island could expect perhaps four flights a day, probably with a 9-passenger twin-engine Islander.

“It's a serious cutback in potential air coverage, because at any given time last year, you might have three or four airlines on the ground,” Mr. Blatt said.

Last winter, the Lake Erie islands enjoyed regular service from Griffing Airport in Sandusky and from the Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport in Portage Township, just east of Port Clinton.

But Avion Management Services, Inc., withdrew in May as operator of the Ottawa County airport, ending scheduled service to the islands. With Griffing's cutbacks, passengers no longer will be able to get a flight with a half-hour's notice.

“You may not be able to get that flight you want the same day,” Mr. Blatt said.

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