New plan takes flight

Isle Royale Seaplanes moving to airport

HOUGHTON — After complaints from nearby residents over proposed relocations in Houghton and Portage Township, Isle Royale Seaplanes will move to a new base at the Houghton County Memorial Airport starting in 2024.

The company had previously operated at the airport from its formation in 2004 until 2016, said owner Jon Rector. When the company expanded in 2017, it added aircraft that could only operate in water.

“The aircraft we used to expand were the most cost-efficient aircraft that we could afford at the time,” he said.

After relocating to Ripley, Isle Royale Seaplanes made multiple attempts to move elsewhere. Houghton City Council voted down a request to rezone property near Coles Creek Road for a seaplane base after city residents complained about noise and concern for boaters and swimmers.

It received especially strong pushback after a proposed move to the site of the Onagaming Yacht Club near the Nara Nature Park, after residents complained about the possible noise and the effects on eagles nesting nearby. That pushback led the company to rethink the financials involved in its operation, Rector said.

When the company originally expanded, it wasn’t in the position to buy the more expensive turbine-powered aircraft. That has changed, Rector said.

“After doing an analysis, we have decided that indeed we can trade our three larger aircraft that operate from the water for one even larger airplane that would operate from the airport,” he said. “That would eliminate a lot of that opposition we hear from the neighbors at the Onagaming.”

Susan Schwenk, a leader of the protests, said Thursday the news was like “an early Christmas present.”

“I’m ecstatic, because that’s exactly where I wanted them to go,” she said. “I always thought they really need to go there, because what they were doing even by transporting their oil tanks to the canal, that’s not right.”

The company is buying a Cessna Caravan, which can be operated both from water and from land. It can carry eight or nine passengers, as opposed to six or seven passengers on the planes it is replacing. That will enable them to maintain the daily capacity, Rector said.

Rector is exploring if it’s feasible to keep one plane at the Ripley location for sightseeing tours and as a backup. Even if that happens, the number of flights of the water would be hugely reduced — “perhaps one or two a day, if that,” Rector said.

Isle Royale Seaplanes will continue operating at Ripley this summer before moving to the new location in 2024. Building of the new facility will take place at the airport next summer and winter.

The county has the option of building it themselves and leasing it to Isle Royale Seaplanes on a long-term basis, or leasing the land and letting the company build it. Rector said that will be discussed with the county’s Airport Board over the next month or so.

With the new plane, Isle Royale Seaplanes will be able to keep one less pilot on staff, while also gaining efficiency in the switch from a piston-powered plane, Rector said.

“We feel like it’s a win-win situation,” Rector said. “We get rid of albeit small numbers, but very vocal opposition, and at the same time, we actually achieve some operational efficiencies using this larger turbine-powered aircraft.”


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