[ INSIDE HAWAII INC. ]
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Les Murashige, above, started in the business right out of high school, cleaning planes for Hawaiian Air. Now he's the new chief operating officer of Island Air, which uses small aircraft to serve West Maui, Lanai and Molokai.
Creating a positive experience for air travelers
Question: When did you start in the industry?
Answer: Right out of high school.
When I was going to college, I worked part time for Hawaiian Airlines, cleaning planes and the luas. In fact, I was the best lua dumper around.
Later I moved home to Kauai and managed cargo for Mid-Pacific Airlines.
After Mid-Pacific shut down, I became assistant station manager on Kauai in 1984 for Aloha, and was with Aloha through October 2003. I worked as a consultant until Island Air was sold.
Q: What will happen when Mesa Air Group starts interisland service, joining Island Air, Hawaiian and Aloha?
A: As far as Mesa is concerned, I don't know what their total plan is. As far as we're concerned, we don't view any of the jet services as a per-se competitor. We have a code-share agreement with Aloha and Hawaiian.
Q: Are you seeking a code share with Mesa?
A: Yes, though I haven't contacted them.
Q: Why do you say the other airlines are not "per se" competitors?
A: We service a market where the demand is appropriate for our smaller craft. The demand for the markets where we go through is not as great: West Maui, Lanai, Molokai.
Obviously, there is a concern when any new service comes into the islands. But our market that we service is suitable for our type of aircraft -- a 37-seater which is appropriate for the demand. It's not that we're not concerned, but I think with Aloha and Hawaiian we look forward to working with Mesa.
Our position has never been ... to compete with the jet service. We have no intent of doing that. We're just staying in our little niche market that we have and function that way.
Q: How has business been since splitting off?
A: We've been very fortunate. We have experienced growth, not without growing pains, but we've been fortunate. We've been profitable. And we hope to continue this way.
The air industry is so volatile, with so many elements that we can't control. The fuel prices, war, natural disasters, even disease. There's so many outside elements ... and we've been fortunate enough to be profitable at this point in time.
And I have to appreciate our code-share partners that have been with us. We've been fortunate in a sense that we've been able to continue relations with Aloha, with Hawaiian. We've forged a code-share partnership with Continental and we've expanded our code-share agreement with United.
And a lot of it is just relationships. The players are relatively the same. We've been real fortunate. We're a small carrier. We have no real clout, so to speak, but a lot of them see how we can enhance their service. Through us, they can offer service to Lanai, Molokai and West Maui. Both of the properties on Lanai have now become Four Seasons so there is a much bigger draw there that will be coming up in the next few years and they recognize this.
Q: Do you plan to add more aircraft?
A: We will forge forward with our plans to bring in a little bigger aircraft. We're looking at the Q400s (74 seats) which is still a prop aircraft. As far as increasing our service, we're actually concentrating on making travel easier. We're concentrating on a customer care program, our Web site. We're working on a project to make it a lot easier. I'm putting a lot of investment in the customer care program. I want to give good customer service. I want people to enjoy themselves when they fly. Travel has become a very unpleasant situation, with the lines and all of that stuff.
We've worked on our fares, our Web page, some other enhancements that we're looking at. We're going to work at Web check-in and putting kiosks in, that kind of thing.
Q: With high fuel costs, can Hawaiian and Aloha survive if Mesa comes?
A: I think it'll be a challenge. And it's hard for me to say because I don't know what each of their marketing plans is. ... But I know that we're confident in our business plan going forward and what we want to do.
Q: How is the company reorganizing?
A: I want to revamp our training. We've changed so much with the growth. The more people you carry, there is a greater possibility of service failures. So I want to revamp all of that -- the training, the customer-service operations -- to ensure we provide the best service. It's a commitment we're looking from our employees. We want them to feel part ownership in the company. We want them to have pride in the company.
We had all this planned way before Mesa made an announcement. It's something we want Island Air to be known for -- that customer service is excellent. We realized this as we began to grow and began to get some customer complaints. We've basically doubled our staff. We've increased employee pay by 30 percent for over 200 employees -- customer service and maintenance employees.
For so long, interisland travel was just a shuttle. We want to create an experience for people traveling.
» Age: 50
» Born and raised: Lihue, Kauai.
» New job: Island Air promoted Murashige, a 30-year industry veteran, to chief operating officer last month. He joined the turboprop carrier last year when it spun off from the parent company of Aloha Airlines.
» Old job: Vice president of sales and revenue management for Island Air. Before that, he was director of revenue management at Aloha.
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