Airline halting Molokai flights over FAA dispute
Molokai Air Shuttle, whose legacy dates back nearly 40 years, said yesterday a dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration over the frequency of the airline's operations is prompting the carrier to shut down service to the Friendly Isle following Sunday's flights.
The on-call, on-demand airline, which had been transporting 100 to 500 people a day with its nine-seat Piper Chieftains, said the FAA had threatened Molokai Air Shuttle with fines if it did not obtain certification as a scheduled carrier.
But Hank Younge, who started the now-defunct Air Molokai in August 1967, said the 15-year-old Molokai Air Shuttle that is owned by his son, Henry, could not successfully serve Molokai if it adhered to the FAA's demands.
"We've been fine for 40 years the way we fly," the elder Younge said. "But there's an FAA regulation that if you travel over five times a week at a certain time, you need to print a schedule. We don't want to print a schedule. We just go when people want to go. If you print a schedule, you've got to keep it, because if you don't, you'll get some attorney calling that the flight was canceled and you'll be sued. We needed flexibility to serve Molokai because we're getting wedding groups, funerals, birthday parties, luaus and sometimes huge groups like baseball teams and canoers."
Molokai Air Shuttle was flying into Molokai Airport outside Kaunakakai and then taking side trips to Kalaupapa, where about 100 people live and work. Kalaupapa, a remote peninsula of Molokai, has been operated as a settlement for Hansen's Disease patients by the state Department of Health for more than 100 years.
More than 100 visitors fly into the settlement each week to see Father Damien's church and take a day tour of the settlement, which is now a National Historic Park, administered by the National Park Service.
But the shuttle's exit as an on-demand carrier will leave Molokai residents who work in Kalaupapa nearly stranded and could put tourist retailers there out of business. The only other airline that serves Kalaupapa from Honolulu is Pacific Wings, and only on a limited basis.
Hank Younge said the decision to pull out of Molokai was not at all related to the interisland airfare war that has been triggered by newcomer go!
"The decision never had anything to do with any competition," said Hank Younge, noting that the shuttle charges fares of about $50 each way. "That's the joke about it. It was strictly this constant harassment by the FAA. They wanted us to print a schedule and we refused."
Most of the 35 employees at Molokai Air Shuttle will be let go, Hank Younge said. But he said that Molokai Air Shuttle will continue to exist as a tour operator on Oahu only.
The plan for the last three years, the elder Younge said, was that Molokai Air Shuttle would transition into becoming a tour operator and Air Molokai would pursue its operating certificate and pick up service to Molokai where the shuttle left off. However, Younge said that while plans for the shuttle to become a tour operator remain intact, he is unsure whether he will pursue obtaining an operating certificate due to the friction with the FAA.
"The FAA was insisting so strongly that (Molokai Air Shuttle) print a schedule that we just decided to shut down rather than wait (for Air Molokai to get its operating certificate)," said Younge, adding that he's already spent $50,000 on obtaining the operating certificate.
Scott Ishikawa, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said yesterday that the agency hasn't been officially notified but "there was some concern" over the shutdown because Molokai Air Shuttle provides air shuttle service from Honolulu to Molokai for the National Park Service and the Department of Health.
Molokai Air Shuttle, which has a fleet of six aircraft, was flying six to 30 flights a day as needed, according to the elder Younge.
The shuttle's exit from the marketplace will leave Island Air and Pacific Wings, both scheduled operators, as the only airlines with flights from Honolulu to Molokai Airport.
However, Mokulele Airlines, which received its scheduled carrier certificate last December, said it plans to begin offering scheduled flights from Honolulu to Molokai in the latter part of next week.
Younge said that the shuttle had passengers with reservations going out for the next two months and that reservation agents were told on Wednesday to let people know there would be no future service.
"Ninety-eight percent of the business has strictly been Molokai people," he said. "Starting with Air Molokai, there's been a continuation by Air Molokai or its associates for 40 years."