State leaders fumbled in island shipping predicament
Aloha Airlines' shutdown of cargo service left customers scrambling.
Government involvement in problems of private business is generally frowned upon, but when an enterprise controls the lion's share of an essential service, it is incumbent on officials to make sure matters don't go awry and to prepare if they do.
In the case of Aloha Airlines' cargo operation -- which transported a whopping 85 percent of goods between islands before its shutdown -- state leaders apparently neglected to keep abreast of a precarious situation and to take actions that might have lessened the damage to the numerous customers who relied on Aloha.
The airline's second bankruptcy declaration and the termination of passenger service more than a month ago should have been unsettling enough for lawmakers and Gov. Linda Lingle to be keenly mindful of the conditions of its remaining operations. However, Hawaii's leaders seemed stuck in reaction mode rather than forming initiatives.
House Speaker Calvin Say's remark that the loss of cargo service was "a wake-up call for all of us on the importance of our transportation infrastructure" sounded particularly feeble, as if the alarm bell had not been rung before.
Meanwhile, the governor, who commands the bully pulpit, doesn't seem to have used her authority with much determination. In a statement issued after the airline was forced by its creditors to end cargo service, Lingle vaguely described her administration's activity as simply "discussions with cargo operators" and identifying "alternatives" for transporting goods.
The governor could have brought together businesses that depended on Aloha to send goods, air and sea shipping companies, county mayors, legislators and other stakeholders to devise a plan to keep products moving.
She also could have acted as a mediator or emphasized to parties in the bankruptcy the importance of continuing service, lending the weight of her office to the proceedings.
As it happened, businesses were left to fend for themselves. Love's Bakery, which usually ships up to 36,000 pounds of products daily, was forced to fly bread first to the mainland then back to Kauai and Maui.
Flower growers and farmers, most of them on the neighbor islands, scrambled to find a way to get their perishable crops to market. For many, slower and less frequent barge services like Young Bros. aren't an option. Neither is the Hawaii Superferry, which runs only to Maui and has unsuitable equipment.
Though demand is high enough that another shipper eventually will fill the gap, the disruption certainly hasn't helped Hawaii's business climate.