Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Foreign airlines courted for direct flights to Kona

By Audrey McAvoy / Associated Press


The Hawaii Tourism Authority is working to have Japan Airlines fly 10 flights from Tokyo's Narita Airport to Kailua-Kona this summer in hopes strong ticket sales will lead the carrier to restore regularly scheduled service to Hawaii island, an official said Wednesday.

The initial plan was to have the flights operated in June and July, said David Uchi­yama, the agency's vice president for brand management. But he said the worldwide grounding of Boeing 787 aircraft is creating uncertainty for the plan because the airline may not have enough planes for the flights.

The 787 has been grounded since Jan. 16 after one plane had a battery fire, and a smoking battery on another plane forced an emergency landing.

Boeing is seeking Federal Aviation Administration approval for a plan to fix the battery problem.

Uchiyama said having the 787 back in the air would be key to whether Japan Airlines would fly to Kona this summer.

"How soon they can come back up is going to determine whether they're going to be able to follow through with that," Uchi­yama said on the sidelines of the agency's spring marketing meeting for industry professionals.

The agency views the special flights as a way to boost the number of tourists traveling to Hawaii island in the long run.

Uchiyama said the flights could be a steppingstone to the return of regular service.

"They want to be able to see if the interest and demand is there. The charter flights would be a good way of measuring the waters," Uchi­yama said, speaking of the airline.

On Hawaii's end the flights would help officials get customs and immigration facilities running again at Kona Airport.

Honolulu Airport is currently the only one in the state that receives flights from cities outside North America.

Japan Airlines flew nonstop from Narita to Kona for 14 years, but it halted this flight in 2010 while it underwent restructuring after declaring bankruptcy.

Uchiyama said the agency has also talked to Korean Air Lines and Qantas Airways of Australia about flying to Kona.

Hawaii island has a different appeal for travelers of each country.

Uchiyama said many Japa­nese are keen on hula and cultural experiences, South Koreans are interested in golfing and honeymooning, and Australians are enthusiastic about the outdoors.

Bringing planes from different countries would diversify the international market for Hawaii island, Uchi­yama said.

It would also make it more economical to run immigration and customs at Kona Airport if more than one international flight arrived each day.

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