KAILUA-KONA — A week after the announcement that a Mississippi-based airline had acquired Mokulele Airlines and an affirmation that it would keep all of Mokulele’s current employees, those employees on Wednesday received news of a 10 percent reduction in staffing levels.
The notice, sent to employees by Rob McKinney, president of Pacific operations for Southern Airways Express, doing business as Mokulele Airlines, said the reductions “are a one-time cut required to ‘right-size’ our staffing.”
“It hurts to have to make decisions like this,” McKinney wrote in the message, which was provided to West Hawaii Today by Southern Airways, “but in the end, our company has to survive and ultimately thrive!”
Keith Sisson, chief marketing officer at Southern Airways, said via telephone Wednesday evening that layoffs were not in the original plans.
“As we got to be more familiar with the operation, the overstaffing became a more obvious problem,” he said. He also said there won’t be a reduction in flights.
On Feb. 12, Southern Airways announced its acquisition of Mokulele Airlines. McKinney told West Hawaii Today at the time all employees would be kept and no change in name or branding was expected.
“The passenger experience is going to be just always as it’s been, if not better,” McKinney said at the time.
Mokulele was founded in 1994 and runs 787 departures weekly. The airline flies 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.
Both Kailua-Kona and Waimea are among the communities out of which Mokulele flies.
The acquisition of Mokulele Airlines marked Southern Airways’ third acquisition in four years.
It took over the Illinois-based Executive Express Aviation in 2015 and then Sun Air Express in February 2016.
On Wednesday, McKinney confirmed to employees the news of the 10 percent reduction in staffing levels, calling it one of a number of efforts underway to “bring Mokulele to profitability.”
He said in December the company had one of its best months in terms of revenue, but called it “a terrible month as it relates to profitability,” and cited it as one of the factors that led to the sale.
McKinney also pointed to unsustainable staffing in some areas as well as the need to prepare for the impact that Southwest Airlines’ arrival into the market will have on pricing.