Customer fears and fuel costs hurt air tours
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HILO » Hawaii's air tour businesses say they're suffering from rising fuel costs, a slumping economy and passengers' fears of an accident like last week's deadly Island Hoppers crash.
Air tour and charter companies are raising their rates to cover basic expenses at a time of year when business is traditionally slow and travelers are watching their spending.
"Our prices have gone up because of it (the price of fuel)," said Sally Ventura, the sales and marketing manager for Big Island Air, a one-aircraft operation based in Kona.
The attention focused on the recent Island Hoppers tragedy, which killed a pilot and two passengers, has "definitely" affected her business, she said.
"Unfortunately, but yes it does," she said.
Mokulele Airlines in Kona also had to raise its rates because fuel prices keep rising, said Chief Financial Officer Peter Slowiaczek.
"It's the single biggest expense that is out of our control," he said. "It's not an expense that we can shop around and look for discounts. We're forced, like people in the car, to pay the price at the pump."
Honolulu-based Pacific Air Charters, which caters to the high-flying jet set, is feeling the pinch of higher prices and lower demand, said Kent Comstock, business manager and a director of Pacific Air Charters.
"Things are looking pretty slow right now," he said. "Fuel prices have made our prices go up, which probably means fewer people traveling."
Comstock said he wasn't sure whether the Island Hoppers crash had any effect on his company.
"People are nervous about flying as it is," he said.
The wreckage of the Island Hoppers Cessna 172 was removed from thick forest on the southwest rift zone of Mauna Loa and delivered to a Civil Air Patrol hanger in Hilo on Friday.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused the crash, which killed pilot Katsuhiro Takahashi, 40, and tourists Nobuhiro Suzuki, 53, and his wife Masako Suzuki, 56, of Chiba prefecture in Japan.