Makani Kai Begins Service to Kalaupapa
Kalaupapa residents have a lot to celebrate at their airport this month. With air service into the peninsula now provided by Makani Kai Air Charters at a fraction of what residents were charged by Pacific Wings last year, patients and staff are now “traveling in large numbers,” according to Mark Miller, Department of Health (DOH) Kalaupapa administrator.
“It has changed the character of the community knowing we can come and go,” he said.
Makani Kai is providing regular twice-daily round trips from Honolulu and three round trips daily to topside Molokai – a service made affordable thanks to a federal subsidy awarded to the carrier in December.
The company’s cost for a round trip flight to topside Molokai or Honolulu runs about $150.compared to Pacific Wings’ $500 round trip fares. Makani Kai also offers half price tickets – about $75 round trip – to registered Kalaupapa residents. The company held a blessing for its service to the settlement on Tuesday.
Makani Kai Air Charters was established by Schuman Aviation Company, Ltd., in 2009. The parent company was established in 1996 and is located at the Honolulu International Airport.
Getting a Lift
Patient-residents will also celebrate the installation of a new wheel chair lift at the Kalaupapa Airport, scheduled for next month, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Martinez Jacobs announced at the settlement’s town meeting last week. Patients have had to board aircraft without the aid of a lift for some time, after Pacific Wings discontinued the service, according to Miller. The new lift, a permanent installation at the airport, will be able to service any aircraft. The announcement was met with cheers from patient-residents attending the meeting.
However, there may also be challenges on the horizon. Pacific Wings filed a petition with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting a review of the decision to award Essential Air Service federal funding to Makani Kai. Pacific Wings had already filed for a review by the DOT. Miller said he is writing a letter in support of Makani Kai’s service, as are patient-residents.
“This is a fight worth fighting,” said Miller. “It’s pretty important for the community.”
DOT, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials also visited the settlement last week to assess airport safety. They announced at the meeting there is concern, especially regarding wildlife.
“There is a wildlife issue on the runway,” said Juan Reyes, an FAA airport certification and safety inspector.
Trevor Lu, an airports biologist with the USDA, said bird and deer strikes are of particular concern.
“All it takes is one incident,” he said. He suggested habitat management and wildlife dispersal as possible mitigations to the problem, options which will continue to be discussed as officials work to address the issue.