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Friday, March 26, 2004



Proposed cuts could
alter Hana air travel

A Bush plan could mean a
reduction in flight connections


WAILUKU >> Some rural Hana residents fear President Bush's recent budget proposal to cut support for small airports would have a drastic effect upon their businesses and health services.

Critics say Bush's cuts to the Essential Air Service program could reduce commuter flights in Hana and scores of other rural airports to the point of stripping rural communities of crucial connections to airline hubs.

Cheryl Vasconcellos, executive director of the Hana Community Health Center, said without regular air service, the clinic would have extreme difficulty maintaining its current level of medical services.

Vasconcellos said the center relies heavily on professionals on other islands commuting by air to Hana, including a dentist, an ophthalmologist and psychologists.

"It's critical for us," she said.

Vasconcellos said there are also residents who need to make medical visits outside of Hana, including at least one person who commutes three times a week to receive dialysis treatment.

Doug Chang, general manager of the Hotel Hana-Maui, said many guests want to fly into Hana and would be unwilling to stay at the hotel if they had to travel for hours on the bumpy Hana Road with scores of hairpin turns.

"It's critical for the hotel and the community," said Chang, whose hotel is the largest employer in Hana.

Bush's budget for the 2005 fiscal year would eliminate flight aid to 23 airports, including Hana and Kamuela on the Big Island and force 82 more -- such as Kalaupapa on Molokai -- to pay part of the costs to continue commuter flights to hub airports.

The Bush budget proposal would cut funding under the Essential Air Service program to $50 million from $113 million, a Transportation Department spokesman said.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the president's budget request seeks to completely restructure the program and require all EAS communities to provide a local match.

"Such a requirement would be a substantial financial burden on these small communities," Inouye said.

Inouye has vowed to fight to restore full funding to the federal program.

Greg Kahlstorf, whose Pacific Wings is qualified as a carrier under EAS, said people making policy in Washington, D.C., do not understand the physical travel difficulties rural residents face in Hawaii.

In the current fiscal year, Hana will receive $945,029 in federal funding, Kamuela will receive $745,773 and Kalaupapa will receive $483,982, Inouye's office said.

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