comscore Editorial: Hawaiian Air needs a lift | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Editorial: Hawaiian Air needs a lift

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It’s bleak and bleaker, as the coronavirus pandemic and resultant economic shutdown keep taking their toll.

Hawaiian Airlines, the state’s largest private employer, this week announced thousands of imminent job cuts, due to the collapse of travel demand.

Until the pandemic hit here in March, Hawaiian Air’s success had paralleled the isles’ record-breaking tourism growth: In March, it had about 7,500 employees, about 90% of them working in Hawaii. Then came the crash, which in a few short months, saw Hawaii’s robust tourism market vanish by an astounding 98%.

Hawaiian Air is now cutting its flight attendant workforce by 816, 341 of them involuntary furloughs; it also plans to reduce pilot staffing by 173, 101 of them involuntary. And more is coming, sadly: Another 1,052 unionized machinists, transport and other workers will be notified in mid-September of furloughs, many of them involuntary.

Hawaiian Air’s plight highlights the depth of suffering here — of a major hometown company and the many local workers it employs. The fact that it is drowning, despite earlier subsidy and support from government, only emphasizes the danger that most Hawaii businesses face as they all fight for survival.

The longer it takes the economy to recover, the more certain that furloughs will turn into permanent job losses.

The airline industry has been among the hardest- hit sectors by COVID-19, due to travel bans, warnings against flying due to contagion concerns, even work-from-home directives that chilled business travel.

But Hawaiian Air, like many U.S. struggling airlines, was temporarily buoyed when the industry in April received about $25 billion from the government as part of a multitrillion-dollar stimulus package. The deal required airlines to keep their employees on until at least September. Hawaiian Air received about $654 million total.

Glimmers of hope here continued in the summer due to then-low coronavirus cases, which prompted a lifting of Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine for interisland travelers coming into Oahu. But rising cases soon led to reinstatement of the interisland quarantine, underscoring a health danger deeper than hoped.

Hawaii’s economy — notably, tourism and airline businesses — cannot move toward recovery until the public-health threat is under control. Gov. David Ige must take decisive actions: Heed the brightest minds inside and outside of government, and get all hands on deck focused only on controlling the coronavirus spread.

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