Mokulele Airlines has ‘big plans’ for Kahului Airport

Mokulele Airlines will be increasing the number of direct daily flights between Kahului and Honolulu International airports to a lucky 13 starting Friday and offering a special $49 one-way fare as the commuter airline turns the Maui airport into its “main hub,” an airline official said Tuesday.

“We have big plans for Kahului,” said Dave Berry, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Mokulele. “Kahului is working out to be our main hub.”

With 120 takeoffs and landings combined each day at Kahului Airport, “we’re real active there,” he said, adding that the airline is working with the state to remodel the commuter terminal.

The airline that flies nine-seater Cessna Grand Caravans will have seven flights from Kahului to Honolulu and six flights from Honolulu to Kahului, Berry said.

The $49 fare, which includes taxes and fees, will be available until Tuesday for travel by May 8.

Although not publicized until after the go! airlines shutdown April 1, Mokulele has been flying passengers between Kahului and Honolulu since September as part of a flight originating in Kohala on the Big Island, Berry said.

He explained that while Mokulele and go! “are completely separate” and “have nothing to do” with each other currently, they were one airline at one time. Mokulele President and Chief Executive Officer Ron Hansen bought Mokulele from go! owners Mesa Airlines in November 2011.

Go! and Mokulele remained “good partners” with a code share agreement that allowed the airlines to sell each other’s tickets, said Berry. However, as part of the agreement, Mokulele could not fly go! routes, and go! had flights between Kahului and Honolulu airports.

When Mokulele won the federal Department of Transportation Essential Air Service contract and began federally subsidized flights between Waimea-Kohala and Kahului airports in September, Kohala residents expressed interest in continuing through to Honolulu, he said. Mokulele worked out an agreement with go! where Mokulele could fly one round trip between Kahului and Honolulu as part of a continuation of the Kohala flight and pick up new passengers in Kahului, he said.

The agreement said that Mokulele could not advertise the Kahului-Honolulu leg, he said.

With go!’s departure from the interisland market, Mokulele now is free to fly the Kahului-Honolulu route and advertise it, he said.

After the introductory fare is over, Berry said the airline will likely price at or below Hawaiian Airlines’ lowest fares. A random check of the Hawaiian website Tuesday showed the lowest one-way fares between Honolulu and Kahului through the end of the month at $75.

“We want to be at that price or less,” Berry said. “It costs us a lot less to operate our airline.”

Mokulele’s flight between Kahului and Honolulu on the single-engine plane will take about 55 minutes, he said. However, when taking the entire travel time into account, including check in, security and traversing the terminals, Berry said that the travel time actually may be less than flying Hawaiian because Mokulele utilizes commuter terminals.

The Kahului-Honolulu flight addition is part of a busy span for the airline that also flies into Kapalua-West Maui, Hana, Lanai, Molokai and Kona airports.

“Ron Hansen is kind of a maverick in Hawaii aviation,” said Berry. “He is always pushing the envelope with what’s new and what’s better.”

Things in store for the airline:

* Beginning a small-package cargo freight program. That would allow passengers to fly small items, such as a forgotten cellphone or rental car keys, in a counter-to-counter service for about $10, he said. The airline currently is working on the logistics and software but is “pushing for early summer” to start the program.

* To fly in and out of Kalaeloa Airport, the old Barber’s Point runway in West Oahu, by early summer, Berry said. “There is a huge population base out in that area and the convenience of flying out of that airport . . . is a huge draw,” he said, noting the growth of Kapolei and Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa nearby. “We look at those types of airports. We go where a lot of the locals want to go.”

* Bidding for the federal Essential Air Service for Kalaupapa, a contract currently held by Makani Kai Air. A decision is scheduled for the summer, Berry said. Makani Kai has reapplied for the contract.

Mokulele has purchased nine new Cessna Caravans and has flown its older aircraft to the Mainland for refurbishing and possible sale, said Berry. The airline currently is in talks with Cessna for an additional three planes, he added.

It’s possible that some of those new planes could be used to increase service to the Kahului-Honolulu route, Berry indicated.

Mokulele was in the news last fall when one of its planes made an emergency landing on Piilani Highway in Wailea. The eight passengers and two pilots were uninjured in the incident Oct. 21.

The crew of the flight reported hearing a loud bang, which was followed by a loss of engine power, before making the emergency landing, according to preliminary information from the National Transportation Safety Board.

* Lee Imada can be reached at