Go!, the upstart low-cost airline that entered the Hawaii market with a fare war and then endured a turbulent ride during its eight years of existence, will slow to a stop Monday night — six years to the day that Aloha Airlines also ceased service.
The last scheduled flight leaves Hilo at 8:45 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive at Honolulu Airport at 9:37 p.m. No formal celebration or wake is planned.
"We always want every opportunity we pursue to succeed," Go! President Chris Pappaioanou said. "So in that respect it’s unfortunate. But we made the decision (to leave) in pursuit of tremendous growth opportunities that are on the mainland with our code-share partners."
Jonathan Ornstein, chairman and CEO of go! parent Mesa Air Group Inc., often proclaimed in go!’s earlier days that go!’s highest fare was lower than the lowest interisland fare the day before go! started. And for a long time go! did keep fares low after entering the Hawaii market on June 9, 2006, with $39 one-way interisland fares and a special introductory promotion of $19 fares. On its first anniversary, go! dropped its one-way fares to $1.
But while passengers embraced the low fares, go! always seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the flying public. Go! was widely blamed by Aloha and many community members of "predatory pricing" after Aloha filed for its second bankruptcy in a little more than three years on March 20, 2008, and 11 days later ceased passenger operations. When go! entered the market, Aloha had been out of its first bankruptcy for just four months.
With go! keeping fares low, Aloha never gained its financial footing after emerging from that first bankruptcy and shut down March 31, 2008, after 61 years in operation. The company had about 3,500 employees, but only about 2,000 ended up losing their jobs at the time because Aloha’s cargo and contract services operations were subsequently sold to other companies.
Ornstein hasn’t responded to emails or phone calls since making the March 17 announcement in a website news release, but did issue a statement at the time, calling the shutdown "an extremely difficult decision" and saying it was in the best interest of Mesa’s long-term strategic objections to focus on maximizing the growth of Mesa’s mainland operations where it flies regionally for United Airlines and US Airways. Ornstein also attributed the shutdown to fuel costs that had doubled since go! started and made sustained profitability "elusive."
As go! bids aloha to Hawaii, it is down to just two 50-seat CRJ 200 aircraft, less than half the number of planes it had at its peak, and has been flying about 30 flights a day. Pappaioanou said the majority of go!’s 80 Hawaii-based employees, mostly pilots and flight attendants, will relocate to the mainland.
Before scaling back, Ornstein indicated to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a March 2012 interview that go! was here to stay.
"These last five years have been a very difficult time for both the airline industry and for us … but we’re in it for the long haul and we’ll see how it goes," Ornstein said. "A lot of people doubted our commitment when we first entered the market and didn’t think we’d be around six years later, and here we are."
Pappaioanou said earlier this month that Aloha was doomed to failure even without go! being in the market.
"Putting aside the emotionalism that surrounds this issue, there were four airlines operating prior to go!’s entry and only one, Aloha, went bankrupt," Pappaioanou said. "Given the other carriers have continued to operate successfully with go! in the market, common sense would suggest that Aloha had other problems besides go! In addition, given Aloha’s highly fuel inefficient fleet of old aircraft, it is unlikely it would have survived given the price of fuel over the past five years."
But former Aloha CEO David Banmiller disputed Pappaioanou’s contention a couple days later during a phone call from Dublin, Ireland.
"That comment is made by someone who does not understand the industry," Banmiller said. "Our operating costs were lower than Hawaiian and lower than go! When he suggests that older, less fuel-efficient airplanes caused our demise, that suggests ignorance of the industry because there are multiple factors that make up unit cost and lease rates. Our lease rates on the airplanes were dramatically lower as well as our personnel costs, and we were much more efficient in our operation than Hawaiian or go!. When go! dropped the fare to $9, that action alone drove us into bankruptcy, and they know it."
Pappaioanou, who declined to respond to Banmiller’s comments, said go! plans to surrender its space at the airport and move its aircraft back to the mainland by or around April 15.