POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 30, 2010
Japan Airlines' last direct flight between Japan and Kona departed the Big Island yesterday, with Hawaii tourism and government officials hoping it will return someday.
Japan Airlines had offered the daily flight between Tokyo's Narita airport and the Big Island since June 1996. It was the only direct flight linking Japan and the Big Island.
The flight provided a major boost to the island's economy. In 14 years, JAL carried more than 980,000 people on the flight. The airline also served as a carrier of Big Island exports, including macadamia nuts, papayas, coffee, spirulina, abalone and desalinated sea water, to the Japanese market.
"The positive impact it has made on our economy for the last 14 years is highly significant, and we truly hope to welcome JAL back someday," said Big Island Visitors Bureau Executive Director George Applegate.
Arriving passengers were greeted yesterday with lei and live Hawaiian music, while departing passengers received a similar send-off.
"JAL has made many difficult decisions worldwide in recent months," said Dan Yanagihara, JAL's Kona station manager. "Local ties, relationships and history that have been cultivated over countless years are now being affected."
Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi and state officials had flown to Japan earlier this year to lobby Japan Airlines to keep the flight. However, the airline decided earlier this year it would drop it as part of its decision to discontinue service on 15 international routes and 30 domestic routes. The cutbacks were made in conjunction with the company's government-backed bankruptcy restructuring.
There were 164,745 Japanese travelers who visited the Big Island in 2009 for an average 3.01 days, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. They spent an average $268 per person, per day, totaling $108.5 million in revenue, on the Big Island.
While JAL won't be flying to Kona anymore, it will begin nonstop daily service tomorrow between Honolulu and Tokyo's Haneda International Airport as the downtown Tokyo facility expands its international service. The airport recently opened its fourth runway and a new international terminal.
Combined with JAL's other daily operations to Narita, Nagoya and Osaka, the airline will offer six daily nonstop flights between Honolulu and Japan for a total of 42 flights a week.
All Nippon Airways will begin daily nonstop service today between Honolulu and Haneda in addition to its daily flight between Narita International Airport and Honolulu.
Hawaiian Airlines will begin daily service from Honolulu to Haneda on Nov. 17.