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Mokulele Airlines expanding service to fill void left by ‘Ohana by Hawaiian’s suspension of operations

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A Mokulele Airlines aircraft takes off on Oct. 2 at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A Mokulele Airlines aircraft takes off on Oct. 2 at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

Mokulele Airlines today became the only airline flying to both Molokai and Lanai and announced plans to expand its interisland service to meet community needs.

Mokulele Airlines, which operates nine-seat turboprops and has been a local airline for 25 years, is adding two more daily departures at Lanai to fill the void left today when ‘Ohana by Hawaiian suspended all operations.

Mokulele began service to Lanai in 2019, with direct flights from Kahului. Last year, the carrier began service between Lanai and Honolulu with two daily departures. This week, Mokulele added two more Lanai frequencies. By Jan. 18, it will have increased Lanai’s daily departures to seven.

Prior to COVID, Mokulele was offering departures to and from Molokai every half hour, and said it also would be ready to rebuild that schedule as demand increases.

Mokulele’s changes have been in the works for some time.

Hawaiian had previously said it planned to suspend Lanai and Molokai routes on Nov. 1 because pandemic-induced low travel demand triggered a provision in the airline’s pilot contract restricting the carrier from providing ‘Ohana by Hawaiian service

However, the routes got a reprieve when the U.S. Department of Transportation told the airline that in spite of the contractual restrictions, Molokai and Lanai remain covered under the DOT’s Essential Air Service program and flights must be maintained at a minimum for the 90-day notice period required under that program.

It wasn’t until earlier this month that the DOT ruled that essential service to Molokai and Lanai could be maintained by Mokulele.

Mokulele’s merger with Makani Kai Air in June helped stabilize the carrier so that it was able to withstand the hardships created by travel quarantines and made it capable of providing air service to Molokai and Lanai.

Richard Schuman, Mokulele executive vice president, said “Mokulele Airlines has gone beyond normal business practices to serve Molokai and Kalaupapa during the pandemic.”

“Prior to COVID, we were offering departures to and from Molokai every half-hour, and we are ready to rebuild to that schedule as the demand increases,” Schuman said.

Schuman said Mokulele will monitor demand and add extra flights as needed.

“We have plenty of planes and plenty of pilots that are ready to serve. Should the demand dictate, we could offer flights from the Lanai airport every hour,” he said.

In preparation for ‘Ohana’s exit, Mokulele said it has constructed wheelchair lifts to assist passengers with limited mobility. The carrier also said it has implemented an alternative boarding procedure and seating configuration so that it can transport passengers weighing up to 400 pounds.

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