Remembering Aloha Airlines

March 31, 2013 – yesterday – was the fifth anniversary of the shutdown of Aloha Airlines.

While it may seem silly to wax nostalgic about something like an airline, there is no question that Aloha and its surviving competitor, Hawaiian, were a large part of island history. There is no denying, too, that for a lot of us there was a lot of daring and romance associated with those early days of airline travel.

Beginning with one Navy surplus DC-3 and a larger-than-life vision, Aloha Airlines began as Trans-Pacific Airlines. It was a strictly charter operation. The first commercial charter flight went from Honolulu to Maui and on to Hilo on July 26, 1946.

Aloha had to wait more than two years to become a regularly scheduled airline. President Harry S. Truman signed the certificate Feb. 21, 1949, and Aloha’s first regularly scheduled flight left the runway on June 6, 1949. Hawaiian Airlines had been in operation between the islands for two decades.

Competition between the two airlines led to low fares, frequent flights and low or no profit margins. In the days before overseas flights to Maui and the Big Island, both Aloha and Hawaiian filled their seats with tourists who had to fly first to Honolulu and then transfer for flights to the Neighbor Islands.

There were so many flights, it was possible to make a last-minute decision on Maui, drive to the airport, board and be on another island within an hour. The interisland jets began flying with more empty seats after Mainland-based airlines began flying directly to Kahului, Hilo and Kona.

The two major interisland airlines fought off at least two upstart competitors with low fares and more comfortable aircraft. Then came go!, an airline started by a deep-pocket company with experience on the Mainland.

Go! cut fares. Aloha and Hawaiian followed suit. It was dog-eat-dog.

With three major interisland airlines in Hawaii’s skies, higher fuel and labor costs and more flights serving fewer passengers, it was obvious something had to give. This time, it was Aloha.

On the fifth anniversary of Aloha’s demise we say, “We miss you and thanks for the memories.”

(Portions of this editorial have appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.