Hawaiian Airlines is temporarily suspending Ohana on Hawaiian flights, a vital service for Molokai and Lanai residents who have few other options for hauling cargo or traveling off the island.
The airline announced on Friday that it would temporarily suspend passenger flights between Honolulu and Molokai and Lanai, as well as cargo-only services in the Hawaiian islands, beginning November 1.
“While we are disappointed that we cannot avoid the suspension of service, this is a difficult situation for both Hawaiian and Empire Airlines as we are at an incredibly challenging time. We all remain committed to returning flights to communities that rely on ‘Ohana by Hawaiian’, ” President and CEO Peter Ingram said in a press release.
As with many other airlines, Hawaii’s passenger numbers and profits have declined as travel nearly stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, Hawaiian suspended most flights to and from Hawaii and reduced Neighbor Island service, starting with the Honolulu to Kapalua route. The airline cut its workforce by nearly 2,500 this month when the CARES Act Payroll Support Program expired.
Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva told The Maui News on Friday that the company will need to employ additional staff with the ‘Ohana by Hawaiian Operations’. “But we still determine how many of our colleagues will be affected.”
“Demand on our network – including on Ohana on Hawaiian routes – has been drastically reduced by the pandemic and travel quarantine restrictions.” Da Silva said. “We have tried to keep a significant amount of flight to Molokai and Lanai because we know how important our service is to both communities, but a clause in our pilot contract prevents us from continuing our service.”
Under this clause, the airline will not be able to offer flights from Ohana to Hawaii operated by Empire Airlines as a feeder carrier on turboprop aircraft if interisland flights by Boeing 717 and Airbus A321neo operated by Hawaiian pilots are greatly reduced . Hawaiians said this type of deployment was common in the U.S. aviation industry.
The company added that if the federal government approves additional funding for the Payroll Support Program, the Air Line Pilots Association has agreed to exonerate the contractual provisions, allowing Hawaiian to put employees back on payroll.
Hawaiians could also resume ohana service once Interisland travel recovers, but said it was unlikely anytime soon.
While the state plans to launch a pre-travel testing program on Oct.15 that could open the door to more travelers, many expect the aviation and visitor industries to recover much longer.
On Molokai and Lanai, residents rely on commuter airlines for frequent family trips, seeking medical treatment, and shopping. The loss of the Molokai ferry in recent years and the decline in flights during the pandemic have left members of the community with limited options.
“‘Ohana by Hawaiian has been a lifeline for Molokai and Lanai residents since they started operations six years ago.” said Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who represents Molokai, Lanai and East Maui. “They are the only option for our residents who are in wheelchairs or need physical assistance to be able to leave the island. Most travel to Oahu for medical appointments. While I am grateful that they offered this service to our communities, this is another unfortunate victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. “
DeCoite said in a press release Friday that she had reached out to Hawaiian Airlines to discuss continuation of service.
“Due to COVID-19 and the restrictions of the Interisland quarantine, many of our community members on Molokai and Lanai have postponed medical appointments.” She said. “Many have not been away from the island since March. Our Kupuna has been checking the news every day to find out when the Interisland trip will resume so they can book appointments for medical, dental and visual care. “
Maui County Council vice chairman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said she understood Hawaiian Airlines’ situation as a “This pandemic has been a challenge for all of us.”
” Ohana’s suspension will have a tremendous impact on our community, the loss of jobs for ‘Ohana employees and TSA staff as’ Ohana is the only airline on Molokai that requires TSA, and our community’s ability to travel due to Mokulele’s restrictions will restrict. like weight restriction, wheelchair accessibility and those who have to travel with oxygen tanks ”. said Rawlins-Fernandez, who is the seat of the Molokai residence.
“We have lost Hawaiian Airlines in the past and I am confident that, like last time, we will figure out how to move forward as a community.” She added.
Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino also said he was familiar with Hawaii’s economic troubles and expressed concern about Molokai and Lanai.
“These communities have limited access to resources and rely on ‘Ohana by Hawaiian’ for medical appointments and essentials.” he said in a press release. “We will work to ensure that our Molokai and Lanai residents have the support and assistance they need.”
Hawaiian said it was contacting guests affected by the suspension to issue refunds. Freight customers receive refunds or, depending on the shipment, the option of having their products transported between the islands on the Hawaiian Boeing 717 and A321neo aircraft.
Hawaiian launched ‘Ohana by Hawaiian Flights’ in spring 2014 and expanded its all-cargo service in summer 2018.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at [email protected]
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