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Island Air Reduces Molokai Flights

One of Molokai’s primary air carriers, Island Air, has made changes to their flight schedule that have raised concerns among local customers. The airline has cancelled all flights between Molokai and Maui, and as of May, will decrease flights between Molokai and Honolulu from five to three per day.

“My concern for the decrease of Island Air travel to Honolulu is for our island population,” said Molokai resident and county councilmember Stacy Crivello. “Molokai people travel to Honolulu for specialized medical needs or hospitalization that may not be provided by Molokai’s health care providers. Molokai families also utilize Island Air… to visit and care for our sick `ohana and be part of our loved one’s celebration of life.”

Les Murashige, Island Air president, said the airline is going through a transitional period with new ownership and aircraft. Lanai owner Larry Ellison bought Island Air in February. Meanwhile, the fleet is converting from Dash 8 aircraft to larger ATR 72 planes.

“Previously we had five flights [between Molokai and Honolulu] that produced 185 seats,” said Murashige. “[Now] we have three flights with 165 seats.”

Currently Island Air is operating with two of the old Dash aircraft and two new ATRs. After two additional ATRs join the fleet in July and the Dash’s are phased out, the airline’s three flights between Molokai and Honolulu will have 192 seats available per day.

“We are committed to Molokai, trust me,” he said. “We ask for [residents’] understanding.”

Short-Term Changes
Murashige said the decreased number of flights to Molokai is temporary.

“Our intent is to put additional flights back [between Molokai and Honolulu] in August or September,” said Murashige. He added that he considers five flights per day to be an ideal frequency to meet the demand. However, with Hawaiian Airlines expected to begin flights to Molokai sometime later this year, he said Island Air does expect to lose some business.

And while Island Air’s flights to Molokai have decreased, its scheduled flights to Lanai have increased.

“Island Air shouldn’t be catering to Lanai, because that’s what it looks like,” said Molokai resident Chevi Levasa. She said with the carrier’s decreased Molokai flights, Mokulele Airlines flights are already filling up around graduation time in May. “Now you’re going to be fighting for tickets,” she said.

Murashige said the scheduling decisions were based on demand, rather than possible ownership bias.

“When we looked at statistics, Lanai demand was growing,” he said, referring to recent developments on the island drawing additional tourists.

He said the same of canceled flights between Molokai and Maui, explaining the decision came down to financial feasibility. “We weren’t getting ridership to support those routes.”

Looking for Improvement
Departure delays also continue to cause complaints among Island Air customers.

“From a delay perspective, we’ve done a terrible job,” admitted Murashige. He said it’s not the fault of the airport or employees, but cited the company’s equipment.

“There are a lot of bugs to be ironed out when using new equipment,” he said. “We’re getting there slowly. We’re working very hard to do a better job.”

He said a recent loss of pilots has also contributed to delays and scheduling issues, saying a larger-than-expected number of pilots left for careers at larger airlines, leaving Island Air with an immediate need to train additional pilots, which takes about three months, he said.

“I would like to apologize that reductions in schedule may have caused in inconvenience as well as delays,” Murashige expressed to Molokai residents. “We’re working very hard to improve those situations and we hope to continue to have [your] support. We have supported this community over the years and we intend to support the community going forward.”

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