Oh how I loved those green-tailed airplanes
The end of an era in Molokai’s history
As a five year old, the act of boarding an Air Molokai airplane may as well have been the same as stepping into to a transporter that could beam me to another planet. It meant I was on my way to Honolulu where there were Happy Meals, Chuck E Cheeses, Ice Capades, Castle Park, and the movies.
But the excitement for these material things would subside as fast as the plane left the ground. As the earth receded, I would marvel at how my family members, waving from their parked car to the side of the runway, would quickly turn to the size of ants. Even the houses that dotted the Ho`olehua homesteads quickly turned to specs.
The view from the air afforded me a world that was a sublime mix of fantasy and reality. Some Air Molokai pilots seemed to prefer flying just over the tops of the cloud line. This provided the perfect vantage point for my fruitful imagination; I always thought of how fun it would be to jump from one billowy cloud to another and wondered if that’s what angels did all day.
As I grew older, my love for inter-island commuter travel grew too. I’d always try to get to the front of the line so I could sit co-pilot. Sometimes, while taxiing down the runway, the pilot would open a little side window to let cool air in on a hot day. Before taking off, the pilot would ask me to latch the window shut – as a kid, the simple task made me feel like a real co-pilot.
When I was 14, I joined the Civil Air Patrol under uncle Danny Marcellino and got the chance to pilot real airplanes. During that time I made friends with the Air Molokai pilots and would ask them everything I could about flying. I can remember a few rare occasions when I was the only passenger on the plane; there was a certain Air Molokai pilot that would relinquish the controls and actually let me fly!
Later in my teenage years, I got hooked on surfing and my drive to become a pilot took a back seat.
One of the reasons I flew so much was because my parents had split when I was young and my father had moved to Oahu. Cheap airline travel (just $15 for a roundtrip kid’s fare) allowed my brother and me to visit our father every other week.
The late seventies were considered the heyday of air travel on Molokai. During this time Air Molokai flew a mixed fleet of World War II-era DC-3’s and other smaller planes. They would move up to 800 people on and off the island in one day.
When I finally got off to college on Oahu, I flew almost as often, accept it was to return to Molokai as often as possible to decompress from city life. Today, business, and the everyday necessities of living on a small island, require me to continue to jaunt to Oahu at least once a month. Up till the last round of “fare wars” my airline of choice had remained “Molokai’s favorite green-tailed plane.”
And now, suddenly, like an unexpected death in the family, my favorite airline is no more. And while I speak of my own personal relationship with Air Molokai and the Molokai Air shuttle, there are thousands of others who have grown up alongside the airline who have their own fond memories of flying back and forth too.
And that’s the unique thing about Air Molokai: it’s not just a business, and neither is it simply a commuter airline. Air Molokai is an integral and interwoven piece of our island’s community. Year after year, with good service and fair prices, Air Molokai has brought people together and allowed us all freedom and mobility.
The merits of Air Molokai should always be credited to the intentions of its founder, Hank Younge. Like many others, he moved to Molokai in the 60’s to provide his family with a healthy environment to grow up in. He was a band instructor and later a counselor at Molokai High School. When he first started flying in 1967, he would make his first flights before school began in the morning, and would resume flying in the afternoon after the bell rang.
For Hank, the airline became a way to provide a living for his family and a safe and fair means of travel for the people of Molokai. He sold the business in 1980. In the mid 90’s his son Henry Younge III brought the business back into the family, as Molokai Air Shuttle, relying on the same consumer-friendly ethic that his father did.
Remarkably, from then until now, Air Molokai has changed very little. This fact leads one to ask if it is not the outside world which has changed around the airline.
One thing is certain: the grounded green-tailed planes mark the end of an era and the turning of a page in Molokai’s history book. While they may or may not take to the skies again, the Younge family and their air services have left a positive indelible mark on the lives and memories of many here on Molokai.