KAILUA-KONA — Mokulele Airlines will provide commercial air service between Waimea and Maui through mid-2021.
The U.S. Department of Transportation re-selected the air carrier earlier this summer to provide essential air service for two years between Waimea-Kohala Airport and Kahului Airport. The airline, which was purchased by Southern Airways earlier this year, has held the subsidized contract since 2013.
“Mokulele was extremely proud by the level of community support we received for the renewal of the EAS contract for Waimea. The US DOT received over 50 letters of support from the public at large. Mokulele has been extremely honored to be Waimea’s hometown airline for over six years,” said Rob McKinney, president of Pacific operations for Southern Airways. “We have maintained an over 99% completion factor for our scheduled flights with over 94% being on time. This past April, Mokulele was the number one on-time airline in the entire country.”
The agreement includes 12 nonstop round trips per week, using nine-seat Cessna Caravan aircraft, between the Big Island and Maui airports.
The DOT issued the order after Hawaii County, the federal department and Mokulele Airlines reached a cost-share agreement in April. The county’s share is $19,489 per year — or $16 per flight.
“We are deeply grateful to the County of Hawaii and Mayor Harry Kim, who’s support and participation in the required cost sharing as part of the contract is what made this possible,” McKinney said.
Mokulele Airlines, and Schuman Aviation Co., doing business as Makani Kai Air, each submitted proposals for the two-year contract. Makani Kai Air proposed $200,000 a year while Mokulele proposed $389,783.
“Mokulele has been providing reliable EAS at Kamuela for many years and most of the comments received by the Department are supportive of re-selecting Mokulele for a new term,” the department wrote in the re-selection order. “Mokulele has an established interline ticket and baggage agreement with Alaska Airlines, which allows passengers to connect to other destinations.”
In the re-selection order, the department noted that while Mokulele’s proposal was higher, the airline’s proposal “better aligns with more statutory criteria, and Mokulele’s subsidy request is less than the current subsidy.”
The subsidy is the difference between the company’s revenue and expenses incurred by running the service. The last contract held by Mokulele was $397,457.
That difference is made up by the federal government’s Essential Air Service program, designed to guarantee air service to small communities throughout the country, along with Hawaii County and community members. Local sources must account for at least 5% of the subsidy.
The subsidy is intended to help small communities whose closest airport is 40 miles away from the nearest hub airport. A 2019 law requires a local cost-share agreement if an airport is less than 40 miles away. Waimea airport is 39 miles from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport.
In 2018, according to the state Department of Transportation, 8,011 passengers passed through the airport, down 8% from 2017. More than 2,000 takeoffs and landings were recorded.
West Hawaii Today reporter Nancy Cook Lauer contributed to this report.