U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made a pledge to the people of Kalaupapa in March of this year to offer subsidized air service that would reduce the costs to the remote peninsula by as much as 60 percent.
On Tuesday, Hawaii U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye announced that LaHood has made good on that promise with the Department of Transportation’s selection of Makani Air Charters to provide subsidized air service for the people of Kalaupapa.
While Makani Kai has not yet published its new fares or schedules, the federal Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy will allow the charter service to offer daily flights to Kalaupapa at highly reduced rates. Pacific Wings, the only carrier offering scheduled flights to Kalaupapa, charges one-way rates of $244 to topside Molokai or $248 to Honolulu.
The two year period of subsidized service will begin at a rate of $932,772 the first year and $923,509 during the second year. Makani Air, a subsidiary of Schuman Aviation Company Ltd., uses nine-seat Cessna Grand Caravan airplanes.
Joining Sen. Inouye in this announcement was Sen. Daniel K. Akaka and U.S. Representative Mazie K. Hirono. These federal legislators, along with state and county politicians, received numerous complaints against Pacific Wings both before and after the company drastically changed its rate structure in July of 2009.
Pacific Wings employees experienced a conflict with airport security in Kahului over the service of a citation for a fuel spill in 2009. Pacific Wings briefly stopped all its services statewide and when they resumed, airfare to Kalaupapa more than doubled to a cost of around $500 round trip. The airline also said they could not afford the cost of wheelchair lifts at that time. Pacific Wings CEO Greg Kahlstorf said that the fares more closely reflect the true cost of doing business.
“I commend Secretary LaHood for securing air transportation for the residents of Kalaupapa following our meeting with community members in March,” said Senator Akaka. “For too long, members of the Kalaupapa community have been unfairly burdened with rising ticket prices, infrequent flights, and inadequate services for residents with disabilities. Residents of this historic community need and deserve reliable air service to connect with their families and access necessities including vital doctor appointments and medication. I congratulate Makani Kai and the residents of Kalaupapa on their new partnership.”
“Today’s announcement is a tremendous boost for the residents of Kalaupapa. I attended the meeting in Honolulu last spring where Secretary LaHood pledged to Kalaupapa residents his intent to provide this isolated community with quality reliable air service at a reasonable rate. I commend Secretary LaHood for living up to this commitment by issuing today’s order,” said Congresswoman Hirono, member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Makani Kai Air Charters currently provides charter flights for visitors to Kalaupapa. Now, with significant federal support, the company will expand and provide daily air service to Kalaupapa. This is especially critical for residents to access medical services, conduct business, or visit their families.”
Pacific Wings provided subsidized service to Kalaupapa from 2000 to 2007. Pacific Wings objected to the solicitation by the DOT of an EAS carrier for Kalaupapa in April of this year. The DOT responded by showing that the number of flying customers from Kalaupapa has decreased by 72 percent, from 3,206 in 2007 to 895 in 2010, as a result of the imposed excessive fares.