COURTESY MESA AIR GROUP
Bill Boyer Jr., right, had several entrepreneurial ventures before buying Mokulele Airlines and agreeing to partner with the new interisland carrier go! He is pictured shaking hands with go!'s leader Jonathan Ornstein.
Laid-off worker strikes isle airline deal
The owner of Hawaii's Mokulele Airlines is a former baggage handler
TACOMA, Wash. » A former Alaska Airlines baggage handler, laid off last year when the airline hired an outside company to move luggage at Sea-Tac Airport, is realizing a childhood dream of owning and running his own airline.
Bill Boyer Jr. wasn't your average airport ramp worker -- he already had a substantial entrepreneurial headstart before he bought Hawaii's Mokulele Airlines last year. Boyer was the originator of the digEPlayer, a portable entertainment system now available to passengers on more than a dozen airlines worldwide and on the Amtrak rail network.
Boyer sold Tacoma-based digEPlayer two years ago to Utah-based Wencor. The system, rented to passengers aboard long-distance flights on such diverse airlines as Alaska and Aeroflot, provides a selection of Hollywood movies and television shows to watch during their journey.
Boyer has also sold two Lakewood, Wash., coffee shops and a day spa he created during his time as an Alaska employee. Now he lives much of the time in Hawaii, though he still owns a Lakewood home.
From his base in the 50th state, Boyer is turning Mokulele, a small charter and sightseeing airline, into a regularly scheduled airline linking half a dozen island destinations.
Earlier this month, Boyer signed an agreement with Arizona-based Mesa Air Group to provide connecting services between smaller Hawaiian airports for Mesa's new Hawaiian carrier, go!.
Boyer already has sold Mokulele's fleet of piston-engined Piper Chieftains and is replacing them with a fleet of new turboprop Cessna Grand Caravans.
The first three of those Cessna aircraft are expected to arrive before the start of Boyer's service with go!. The new aircraft will be branded as go!Express. The airline acquired a new hangar and is expecting to increase Mokulele's employment from 30 or so workers to about 100.
Eventually Mokulele expects to operate a fleet of as many as nine Grand Caravans. The Caravans carry nine passengers in leather seats with a generous 34-inch seat pitch, more than most jet operators have between coach seats.
Boyer's deal with Mesa puts his airline on the periphery of a full-blown business battle between newcomer go!, which started interisland service with 50-seat Bombardier jets in June, and the established interisland carriers, Hawaiian and Aloha airlines. Among the smaller airlines, Boyer will have two established carriers, Island Air and Pacific Wings, as rivals.
"Doing this deal with Mesa has opened a lot of doors for us and it's given the legacy carriers confidence in us because Mesa is a big company and strong," Boyd said. "These complaints from other Hawaii airlines about Mesa putting them out of business sounds like bad management running their companies because we're doing just fine with Mesa as go!Express coming here."
The former Alaska employee said he believes Mokulele will survive and prosper because its new aircraft will need little maintenance and because his employees will be cross-trained to do multiple jobs. Pilots, for instance, could even load bags. Boyer himself said he's able to do any job except fly the planes.
"I'll even load the bags. I've certainly got the experience," he said.