KAILUA-KONA — Florida-headquartered Southern Airways Express announced Tuesday that it has acquired Mokulele Airlines, but the local airline’s customers can still count on seeing the same branding and employees they’ve come to know and could potentially see new destinations on the horizon.
“The passenger experience is going to be just always as it’s been, if not better,” said Rob McKinney, president of Pacific operations for Southern Airways Express, doing business as Mokulele Airlines.
Southern Airways will also keep all of Mokulele’s current employees, he said, and there will be no change in the name or branding of Mokulele or its planes.
Mokulele, founded in 1994, currently runs 787 departures weekly, flying in to and out of destinations on Hawaii Island, Oahu, Maui, Lanai and Molokai as well as between Imperial/El Centro, California, and Los Angeles.
A press release from Southern Airways also referenced the airline’s interest in keeping the local brand “alive and well” in the state.
“The Mokulele brand is beloved in the Hawaiian Islands,” said Stan Little, chairman and CEO of Southern in a release. “I’ve found their aloha spirit to be very similar to our company’s core values, so we are truly excited about adding the Mokulele name to the Southern family of companies.”
Southern Airways currently runs 600 flights a week across 20 cities, according to the release, and this acquisition marks the company’s third in four years.
The airline already flies in and out of destinations in the mainland’s gulf and mid-Atlantic regions, including destinations like Pittsburgh and Baltimore as well as Memphis and Dallas/Fort Worth. By acquiring Mokulele, the company now has a presence in Hawaii and California.
“We’ve looked at several potential acquisitions over the last couple of years,” said Little. “This was the first opportunity that I believed to be the perfect complement to operation.”
Southern Airways began flying in 2013 running flights between Memphis, Tennessee, and Destin, Florida.
The company acquired the Illinois-based Executive Express Aviation in 2015, followed by acquisition of Sun Air Express in February 2016. The company launched service between Palm Beach, Tampa and Key West in November last year.
McKinney, who was previously president of Mokulele Airlines, said being part of this network will be a boon to the local flights and customers, offering centralized pilot training and the opportunity to invest in infrastructure that’s previously been out of reach.
“So there will just be lots and lots of improvements when it comes to just the experience and the ability for us to run a super efficient operation and keep our prices as low as possible,” he said.
The acquisition also opens up the opportunity for new routes and destinations as well as increased connectivity to and from existing destinations. He said they’re currently doing some preliminary work to consider service to Kauai.
The company will also keep its agreement with airlines like Alaska Airlines, and McKinney said new partners will be announced soon.
“This is a win for our passengers,” he said. “It’s a win for our employees and really it’s a win for the state of Hawaii.”