Hope for Cheaper Kalaupapa Flights
After two years of struggling under exorbitant airfares into Kalaupapa, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for patients and workers. Department of Transportation (DOT) officials are working with the Kalaupapa community to help a second air service offer flights to the peninsula. Residents will be giving their mana`o on which of the three companies that have applied for subsidies will be awarded the funding.
Patients and workers in Kalaupapa saw a glimpse of hope when Sen. Dan Inouye brought the Secretary of the DOT Ray LaHood to Honolulu on March 25 to introduce him to Kalaupapa patients and hear their woes over high airfares.
“The community needs a certain level of service that the current carrier isn’t providing,” said Bill Mosley, spokesperson for the DOT. Pacific Wings is currently the only regular air service for the peninsula.
The DOT is now in the process of sorting through applications for Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy requests. Each company that applied has the same goal: lower the airfares in Kalaupapa from the current $500-plus round-trip flight tickets charged by Pacific Wings.
Three companies have submitted applications for federal subsides: Schuman Aviation Company Ltd, which owns Makani Kai Charters; Above It All Inc, which owns Iolani Air; and Sovereign Air, Inc.
It will be up to the Kalaupapa community to give their input on which company would be best suited to offer services. The FAA will begin taking public opinion into consideration as it makes its decision. Only one company will be granted the subsidy, and would continue service in Kalaupapa in addition to Pacific Wings.
Mosley says that theDOT will begin soliciting residents of the Kalaupapa community within the next month about what kind of service they would like to see.
In their applications, the three companies requested subsidies ranging from $620,000 to $930,000 annually. Makani Kai also stated in its request it would “offer bonafide Kalaupapa residents 50 percent off established airfares.” The airline has been offering chartered tours of Kalaupapa since 2009.
Pacific Wings Under Scrutiny
Pacific Wings applied for the federal subsidies last December, but pulled its request last January after hearing complaints about its service from Kalaupapa residents.
Greg Kalhstorf, CEO of Pacific Wings, wrote in a letter to the DOT that he will continue to run his business without subsidies and believes his company can continue being the sole air service provider in Kalaupapa.
“Federal law currently prohibits payment of EAS subsidies in locations where one or more scheduled carriers is willing to provide service without them,” Kahlstorf wrote in his letter.
But the DOT has received complaints regarding Pacific Wings reliability of service to the peninsula. In the past three years, its number of passengers into Kalaupapa has decreased by almost 2,000 passengers.
Kahlstorf claims that Makani Kai’s bid would total a 35 percent profit with federal subsidies. In Makani Kai’s application, it proposes a $125 one-way ticket between Honolulu and Kalaupapa, but with its promised 50 percent discount for “bonafide Kalaupapa residents,” its rate would be around $62.
Makani Kai’s proposal suggests two round trips between Honolulu and Kalaupapa, and three round trip flights between Topside Molokai and Kalaupapa Monday through Saturday.
Richard Schuman, president of Schuman Aviation (Makani Kai), said his company interviewed residents and workers to determine their air service needs.
“It is clear that patients would like to be able to come to Honolulu for medical appointments and return to Kalaupapa the same day,” said Shuman.
Sovereign proposed $50 one-way tickets between Honolulu and Kalaupapa, but that price would decrease to $40 if purchased in advance. It also stated that it could provide three round-trips from Topside Molokai Monday through Saturday.
Iolani Air has said in its request that it could provide two daily round-trip flights between Honolulu and Kalaupapa, as well as topside Molokai.
The DOT will conduct interviews with Kalaupapa residents within the next month to find their needs, which will factor in deciding which company will is most worthy of the EAS subsidies.