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Interisland flights to begin from Kamuela Airport

<p>Interisland flights from the Waimea-Kohala Airport are to resume as early as this summer. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)</p>

Interisland flights from the Waimea-Kohala Airport are to resume as early as this summer. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)

Flying to Honolulu or Maui is about to get easier for North Hawaii residents.

Mokulele Airlines, based in Kona, and Makani Kai Air, based in Honolulu, have both submitted proposals to the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide essential air services to the communities surrounding the Kamuela Airport.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will take into account a number of factors when selecting either airlines for the service, to which it will add matching funds. The DOT will choose either Kahului or Honolulu as a destination to and from Kamuela, and they will look at community comments and desires and those of elected officials before making a decision. Pacific Wings has also put in a bid for van service to Kona from the airport.

Mokulele Airlines, which has offered the cheaper bid, is proposing to offer 12 round trip departures a week between Kamuela and Honolulu or Kahului. According to their proposal, “Our goal is to provide cost effective flights for the residents of Kamuela and the surrounding communities on non-stop flights.”

Ron Hansen, CEO and president of Mokulele Airlines said, “We’re hopeful they will select us for a four year contract to Honolulu, however there’s a chance they may pick Kahului since it’s a bit cheaper. And we’ll be happy to fly to Kahului if we get it awarded.”

Founded in 1988, Mokulele operates more than 80 flights a day, carrying more than 15,000 passengers a month with its fleet of eight Cessna Grand Caravans, five of which are new. They will add another new plane to their fleet this fall. They also have a record of flying 15 years accident-free.

“It’s absolutely essential that everything work right every time,” Hansen said.

Since Hansen bough the airlines two years ago, passenger rates have more than doubled from 7,000 to 16,500 a year.

Makani Kai Air has been in operation for 25 years flying helicopter tours, and began airline service interisland to Molokai in 2008. Owner and president Richard Schuman is committed to making travel between the islands more convenient for local travelers.

“I’m driven to bring air travel back to the way it used to be,” said Schuman, forth generation of Schuman Carriage, Hawaii’s oldest vehicle dealership, which closed its doors in 2004.

The main advantage Makani Kai Air has, Schuman said, is that they operate at the opposite end of the main terminal in Honolulu, in a separate building. Because of this, passengers are not subject to Transportation Security Administration screening, passengers can check in 15 minutes before a flight, and can travel easily with pets. The only drawback would be catching a connecting flight. Mokulele is within the main terminal, and passengers take a shuttle from the Makani Kai building.

At the Kamuela airport, there is no TSA screening and passengers luggage is not subject to search.

Mokulele estimates they will be able to service more customers than their competitor, and Hansen also stated they fly with two pilots, while Makani Kai flies with one.

“With more people now in these (North Hawaii) communities, I believe there is a larger market (now) than in the past,’ Hansen said. “Pacific Wings’ fares were too high and dried up the market. There’s a limit to what people will pay.”

By presenting their proposal to the public at the Waimea Community Association meeting and at the Rotary Club of North Hawaii meeting, Mokulele hopes to garner public support. Both airlines are hoping to be awarded a four year contract, and either way, both airlines are prepared to commence service immediately once their proposal is accepted.

Public comments are due by June 20. The DOT is scheduled to make a decision by the second week of July.

Questions about Mokulele’s application and about Mokulele’s plans for providing air service to Waimea-Kohala Airport can be sent to: eas@mokulelehawaii.com

You can support Mokulele’s application by writing to the Department of Transportation (email to eas@dot.gov) or go to http://www.tinyurl.com/flymue and enter your comments directly at the DOT website for Kamuela Airport. The deadline is June 20.