Government searches for ways to help airline
Gov. Linda Lingle, while expressing sympathy for Aloha Airlines workers, announced a plan yesterday to fight the carrier's intended shutdown of passenger service.
Lingle said the state would ask the federal Bankruptcy Court not to permit the shutdown until the airline has shown it has exhausted all avenues for staying in business. The state will also seek to have Aloha provide financial information to determine if the shutdown is truly necessary.
"We are deeply disappointed that Aloha Airlines has made the decision to cease operations of their interisland and trans-Pacific passenger flights," Lingle said in a message posted on her Web site. "Our main concerns are threefold: first and foremost the 1,900 employees and their families, the need for continued air service for our residents and visitors, and protection of the state's long-term fiscal and economic interests."
Lingle said the state has activated a rapid-response team, led by the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, to assist displaced workers on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.
Elsewhere at the state Capitol, lawmakers looked at possible last-ditch efforts to keep the airline flying, even as they explored ways to ease the hard landing for Aloha employees.
"It's a sad day," said Sen. Rosalyn Baker, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, who flew on an Aloha Airlines flight from Maui to Honolulu yesterday afternoon. "My heart goes out to the employees."
"Even though it looks a little bleak at the moment, we're not going to be giving up in our efforts to try to assist to keep these jobs," Baker said.
In response to Aloha Airlines filing bankruptcy two weeks ago, the Senate introduced a bill that would guarantee 90 percent of a loan to an interisland airline carrier in Hawaii. The loan could be for any airline, but it was primarily meant as a "security blanket" for any financial institution that helps Aloha. A hearing is scheduled tomorrow with the Ways and Means Committee.
While lawmakers and elected officials were concerned about the loss of jobs, they were also worried about protecting Hawaii's economy from a ripple effect if the airline shuts down.
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa suspected the move to stop passenger service was probably to let the public know of the worst-case scenario.
"I think this was Aloha's way of giving everybody fair warning," she said. "When Aloha was in this position two years ago, they were able to pull it out. I'm hoping they can do the same."
Hanabusa said she hopes the airline will be helped by a bill passed by the Senate that exempts airline fuel from taxes for interisland carriers.
She said the main concern is keeping Aloha together as an entity. "We're going to continue unless for some reason they tell us 'no way,'" she said.
House Speaker Calvin Say promised to do what he can to help the employees.
"If there's anything we can do to assist them, we'll try our best from the legislative side," he said. "I hope Aloha will become another rising phoenix."
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who met with Aloha employees last week, said, "Their lives are collapsing in front of them."
In the hope of lowering fuel costs and increasing the airline's cash flow to save the airline, Abercrombie said he will send a letter to President Bush today asking him to release fuel from the petroleum reserve, a fuel bank that is held for sustaining energy during a shortage crisis.
While there is no fuel shortage, Aloha and other companies in the commerce and cargo industry are on the verge of a crisis because of high fuel costs, he said.
"It's a national emergency," he said. "The cargo hauling industry, the commerce industry are reaching the crisis point. Truckers are being shut down."
He said the move would "get some breathing room to try to come up with a plan not just for commerce, but for everybody in the country."