Hawaiian Airlines Welcomed Back
As Hawaiian Airlines officially launched its new service, `Ohana by Hawaiian, to Molokai last week, hundreds of residents and officials celebrated an occasion that for many, felt like a homecoming for the company.
“Molokai has been part of our ohana for the last 85 years,” said Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian Airlines (HA) president and CEO. “For the last 10 years, we have not been able to operate here, but every single one of those days in between we’ve been working on plans to bring this wonderful day to fruition. It’s great to be back and have had such tremendous support from this community.”
Under sunny skies, a crowd turned out to welcome the aircraft, greeting its arrival with oli and lei from Molokai residents preschool-aged through kupuna.
In a purple dress that mirrored the tones of the aircraft’s kapa pattern designed by world-renowned Hilo artist and designer Sig Zane, Molokai’s Aunty Kauila Reyes greeted Zane with a warm hug of old friends. Reyes said she’s known him since he was college classmates with her daughter.
“There’s one wahine nui, a special person here, that inspired us,” said Zane of Reyes, remembering the call from Hawaiian Airlines asking him and his son, Kuha`o, to craft the plane’s livery, or distinctive company design displayed on each aircraft.
“We were guided by her thoughts and spirit,” he continued, describing his fond and frequent visits to Molokai, where he used to stay with Reyes and her family. Reyes said she first met Zane when he went to college with her daughter.
Hawaiian Airlines last flew onto the island in 2004 on a Boeing 717-200 aircraft. Ten years later, the airline returned with a 48-seat ATR-42 and a new name that’s full of meaning.
“We quickly settled on the name of `Ohana by Hawaiian because in so many ways it captures the feeling we have towards this community in Molokai,” said Dunkerley.
The airline’s history on the island dates back to its beginnings in 1929.
“Molokai was the first destination for Hawaiian Airlines in Hawaii,” said Alison Croyle, HA director of external communications. “It stopped twice — once for war and once [10 years ago.]”
`Ohana will be flying routes between Molokai, Honolulu and Lanai, offering three daily flights to the Friendly Isle. Hadden Watt, managing director of `Ohana by Hawaiian, said the company has three aircraft; two will be used in daily operations, while one will be reserved as a spare. Flights are operated by Idaho-based Empire Airlines.
Watt garnered a loud cheer from the crowd when he promised timely service.
“We hope to bring you a safe, reliable, consistent, on-time airline,” he said, amid clapping. “We want to be an airline you can rely on, we want to be part of this community, we want to create something the community here can be proud of.”
Watt said the new airline has created about 100 new jobs statewide, and nearly a dozen for Molokai residents. Local employee Genella Albino said 11 will be operating the Molokai base, and Watt said they’re still building staff and may have a couple more positions opening up.
Pilot Rob Fuchs, a captain with Empire who was part of the crew that flew the inaugural flight, said Empire currently has 30 pilots in Hawaii flying for `Ohana and may be hiring more.
The new airline’s arrival has been a long time coming.
In the fall of 2012, Hawaiian Airlines announced plans to add Molokai and Lanai to its itinerary, originally anticipated to begin last year. The start date was pushed back several times, largely due to 2013 budget sequestration, causing delays in the certification process through the Federal Aviation Administration.
When the day finally arrived, it seemed as though the whole island came out to welcome the aircraft, in the words of Zane.
“I was shocked at how big a deal it was,” said Reyes, a guest of honor at the celebration. Outwardly a picture of grace and composure, she admitted later she was so nervous that fellow kupuna were talking to her quietly in Hawaiian, telling her, “don’t be afraid.”
She called Zane’s livery pattern “beautiful,” adding she could “see myself in the design.”
It weaves three kapa patterns: piko, or navel, representing ancestry and progeny; manu, or bird, representing both a bird in flight and the prow of a canoe, the traditional form of migration; and kalo (taro), representing family.
Along with Reyes, Zane gave credit to his son for making the design come together.
“I grew up [on homestead land] in Hilo right next to the airport…” said Kuha`o Zane. “For me, when I stand in my yard and I get to tell my nieces and nephews when they look up at the plane, that that’s a Hawaiian story on the plane, that’s what really matters to me. So this is not necessarily for me or for my dad, this is for the keiki of Molokai.”
In keeping with the airline’s Molokai inspiration, kupuna Julia Hoe offered one ukulele to keep in each plane.
“We wanted to honor Aunty Ku`ulei Perez… [who told us], ‘Continue to play the music and don’t let it die,’” said Hoe. “This is why we want to make sure each airplane has a ukulele on board. I don’t want you to keep it on your airplane to get dusted — I want you to bring it out and jam.”
With Island Air discontinuing service to Molokai April 1, `Ohana by Hawaiian’s arrival came at a good time, according to some residents.
“They’re saving us from not having a job after Island Air leaves, which we’re very grateful for,” said a Molokai TSA employee.
One change will come for those wishing to check bags through to the mainland, which first requires inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On Molokai, USDA employees are only available to inspect baggage in the morning, and `Ohana by Hawaiian has said they will not be able to hold the bags if passengers are leaving on an afternoon or evening flight.
Meanwhile, `Ohana officials have promised to work with Molokai to provide residents with reliable service.
“Our pledge to you is we intend to be good neighbors, we intend to be supportive of this community, we intend absolutely to reconnect Molokai to its own ohana elsewhere in our island community and… around the world,” said Dunkerley.
Reyes said she plans to fly on `Ohana in the next week — and added she will definitely play the ukulele on board.