Feds consider subsidizing Waimea flights

HILO (AP) – Three airlines are seeking a federal contract to operate subsidized flight service to the Big Island’s Waimea airport.

Pacific Wings, Mokulele Airlines and Makani Kai are competing for the contract, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

The flights would go to either Honolulu or Kahului. The U.S. Department of Transportation will select the destination. The service will be supported by the agency’s Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes service to rural areas.

Currently, Waimea residents must drive to Kailua-Kona or Hilo to fly interisland.

The program would pay for 12 flights a week at 80 percent of the cost. The carrier would set passenger fares.

Mokulele CEO Ron Hanson estimates that flights to Kahului would cost passengers between $59 and $89. Rates to Honolulu would be a little higher but comparable to those of other airlines.

“We try to keep it very fair,” Hansen said of rates.

Makani Kai owner Richard Schuman said his company would be able to provide service only to and from Honolulu. Flights to Honolulu would cost about $100 each way on Makani Air, he said.

Sherman Warner, president of the Waimea Community Association, said the community once had subsidized regular air service, but it ended around 2007.