Our View: Bumpy landing for new airline

Here’s hoping the rest of the relationship goes better than the introduction.

A little more than a week after Southern Airways Express announced it acquired Mokulele Airlines with a pledge that it would keep service, branding and employees in place, it went back on its word.

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The Mississippi-based airline said Wednesday it was actually reducing staffing levels by 10 percent.

The company sent the notice via email to employees. It said the reductions “are a one-time cut required to ‘right-size’ our staffing.”

“It hurts to have to make decisions like this,” Rob McKinney, president of Pacific operations for Southern Airways Express, doing business as Mokulele Airlines, wrote in the message, 10 days after he told West Hawaii Today that staffing levels would go unchanged. “But in the end, our company has to survive and ultimately thrive!”

Keith Sisson, chief marketing officer at Southern Airways, said 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 noted there won’t be a reduction in flights.

Business can be tough. Running them, even more so, as everything is based on the bottom line.

Those bottom line figures are often guarded, too, so we understand that this likely wasn’t McKinney trying to spin something that could look like a fib for the fun of it. More likely his burden was to break the bad news when word from above fell to him.

Still, it’s a bad look for a first impression after taking over a family-owned company based in Kona that also services Waimea. It’s rough enough laying off local workers — there are roughly 300 statewide — without putting a foot in the mouth.

As far as air travel, few industries pike the island’s interest more. It’s the vehicle that enables our bread and butter industry, tourism.

It’s also the one that symbolizes a metaphoric lifeline — whether residents are locked on island, or if they can realistically afford to hop a flight and “get away,” as the old television commercial used to say. It’s about $200 right now to hitch an 84-mile flight to Maui for the weekend. That’s not a bad deal actually, which speaks to how expensive deals can be.

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But if the new owner can make good on their other pledges — that service will excel and customers will benefit — it will be easier to forget about Southern Airway’s hiccup out of the gate.

It also wouldn’t hurt if Southwest, when they get up and running here, scoops up some of those laid-off employees.