Air St. Thomas owner not selling Airline Tickets AnymoreAir St. Thomas owner Paul Wikander made his final scheduled flight last week, ending the airline's 35 years of operation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Piloting a nine-seat Cessna 402, Wikander flew Wednesday afternoon from Fajardo, Puerto Rico, touching down at King Airport on St. Thomas. He was greeted by friends, family and business associates.
Wikander and his wife, company vice president Margaret, retired from the family business and plan to sell it. Air St. Thomas is the longest operating carrier based in the territory, he said.
"It's the hardest decision I've ever made," Wikander, 65, said. "I enjoy flying between the islands. I've always loved aviation since I was a little kid. But I'd like to spend more time with my family."
Born in Detroit, Mich., Wikander moved to St. Thomas in 1963 "with just $35, my wife and child, and one small suitcase," he said.
Before moving to the territory Wikander served with the U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue in Puerto Rico, and before that he worked in Civil Air Patrol on the U.S. mainland. On St. Thomas he held a variety of jobs, some in aviation, before founding his business.
Wikander launched the airline, which he called Virgin Air, in 1970, but because of a trade name dispute with Virgin Atlantic, the airline changed its name to Air St. Thomas in the early 1990s.
The airline grew and began offering daily scheduled flights between San Juan, Fajardo, Virgin Gorda, St. Barths and the U.S. Virgin Islands, along with charter and commercial service, with its two twin-engine aircraft.
Air St. Thomas stopped flying to St. Barths last year after it was named among five airlines that were "blacklisted" by the French government because of alleged maintenance violations. Wikander believes the ban is "political" and has touted his airline's strong safety record of just one minor injury in 35 years.
He credits Margaret with making the business a success: "She's the backbone of Air St. Thomas," he said.
Now, the couple will have more time to spend with their two daughters and three grandchildren.
Paul and Margaret Wikander plan to stay busy during their retirement, however. They are preparing to open a villa for short-term rentals in the Scott Free neighborhood of St. Thomas.
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