Aloha’s downfall may help Superferry survive
The demise of Aloha Airlines gives the vessel a bigger role in the travel industry
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The shutdown of Aloha Airlines this week and improving weather may be enough to keep the Hawaii Superferry afloat, according to industry experts and the company's top executive.
"What we've seen during the last two years is basically an environment that's not sustainable," said John Garibaldi, the Superferry's president and chief executive.
Others said noted that as interisland airfares increase, the Superferry's rates will appear more competitive, and that the arrival of the company's second vessel next year will ease reliability concerns.
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After nearly two months of maintenance work, the Hawaii Superferry is scheduled to resume its service Monday.
Timing may be everything for the Hawaii Superferry
With the shutdown of Aloha Airlines' passenger operations Monday and improving spring weather conditions, the Alakai will be better positioned to stay in operation after it resumes its Oahu-Maui service on Monday, the company's top executive and industry experts say.
The 866-passenger vessel will sail more than two weeks ahead of schedule, after nearly two months of maintenance and repair work. The Superferry has been plagued by legal delays and high seas since it launched for less than a week in late August before shutting down until December.
"I think what Hawaii has experienced over the last two years since the entry of go! was an environment which really wasn't envisioned when we put our business plan together back in the 2003-2004 period," said John Garibaldi, the Superferry's president and chief executive. "From our business model, it's getting back to an environment to which we think this market would basically settle out at."
Garibaldi said he expects passenger levels -- at 4,944 in December and 6,895 in January, according to state Department of Transportation data -- to meet its projected break-even average of 400 a trip. The ferry will run one daily round trip to Maui, with a second daily voyage planned later this spring. It has yet to set a date when service will resume to Kauai.
The Superferry, which normally employs as many as 220 workers, has been operating with half that since the 349-foot Alakai entered drydock to make permanent repairs related to the ship's auxiliary rudders on Feb. 13.
David Bess, a professor at the University of Hawaii College of Business Administration, said he expects interisland airline rates to increase with the absence of Aloha, allowing the Superferry's rates, currently set at $39 one way for passengers and $55 for vehicles through June 5, to be more competitive.
Regular rates had been set at as much as $62 per adult during peak travel and $69 per car before the ferry started service, while an interisland fare war pushed one-way plane tickets to as low as $1.
Bess, who has also worked for Hawaii Tug and Barge Company Ltd., said the Superferry's freight service may also benefit from uncertainty over the fate of Aloha's cargo unit, which transports 85 percent of the state's air cargo.
"If I were shipping freight on Aloha right now I would be looking for alternatives just to make sure that I can still get my freight into the market," he said. "With a daily scheduled and reliable Superferry service that would take away some of that cargo from the airlines, depending on the rates."
Henry Marcus, a professor of marine systems in the Center for Ocean Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who also has taught at the University of Hawaii, said the planned addition of a second vessel early next year for service to the Big Island will help ease concerns over reliability.
"Going from zero service to a reliable, frequent service is just a very painful transition here," he said. "When the day comes that they have at least two vessels and they are both relatively reliable even when one fails, you have the other one so people won't get stuck on an island indefinitely."
The company's second vessel is scheduled to begin Big Island service in early 2009. Garibaldi said he doesn't expect the Alakai to be out of service this year more than his initial estimates of less than two weeks.
"This was an exceptional year as you look over the last decade of weather patterns," he said. "Going into spring and summer and fall I'm not concerned at all about us operating."