Sen Dan Inouye and Gov. Ben Cayetano enter the courtroom of the Federal Building Tuesday before the start of a Senate subcommittee meeting on aviation issues. Photo By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin

Cayetano: Take Hawaii out of
U.S.-Japan air dispute

Inouye holds a Senate subcommittee meeting on Oahu

By Russ Lynch

Major airlines and key state and federal officials called for an end to the current dispute over U.S.-Japan passenger aviation rights.

"I cannot simply condone any action which holds the economic interests of the state hostage in order to resolve an issue that does not relate to our direct service needs," Gov. Ben Cayetano said Tuesday.

Cayetano was testifying before a hearing of the U.S. Senate aviation committee in a federal courtroom in Honolulu. Subcommittee member Sen. Dan Inouye conducted the hearing with Rep. Neil Abercrombie beside him, before an audience of about 80.

Cayetano said the U.S. government should immediately give Japan Airlines a provisional right for six months to fly between Tokyo and Kona, just as it did recently for JAL's service between Honolulu and Sendai, northeast of Tokyo.

That out of the way, the United States and Japan can go on to discuss the broader issues of aviation trade, he said.

Japan Airlines, late last month, had to cancel plans to start direct Tokyo-to-Kona service on April 1 because it could not get U.S. approval.

United Airlines said that the United States is right to block JAL until Japan allows United to fly additional routes, such as more Los Angeles-Osaka flights and new service from Osaka to Seoul.

Continental Airlines weighed in, however, with a statement that it believes United and Northwest airlines, two big carriers with a strong presence already in the U.S.-Japan market, don't really want air-trade talks to begin because they might lose some rights they already have.

United's vice president for governmental affairs, Shelley A. Longmuir, said Japan is just trying to protect its own inefficient airlines by denying United and others rights they already have.

"Unfortunately, Hawaii's valuable tourism is threatened by the Japanese government's attempt to protect inefficient Japanese carriers from more competitive American carriers," Longmuir said.

Japan is taking artificial steps to breach existing agreements, such as one from 1952 that allows United its requested service between Osaka and Seoul, he said.

Japan's response to the United States' blockage of JAL's Kona service has been to deny United its planned increase in Los Angeles-Osaka service and to threaten to block Northwest Airlines' planned Seattle-Osaka service. Both are allowed under existing agreements, Longmuir said.

The profitability of United's entire Hawaii service, including its mainland-Hawaii routes, depends to a degree on gaining new footholds in Asia, Longmuir said.

Mark A.P. Drusch, Continental's staff vice president for international and regulatory affairs, said that the Japanese have made it clear that they would rather not see service between Japan and the leisure markets of Hawaii and Guam caught up in the broader issues.

Japan has said services such as JAL's Kona flights and Continental's requested expansion of its Hawaii-Japan and Guam-Japan flights can be handled swiftly without getting into what is called "beyond rights," such as United's Osaka-Seoul route, said Drusch.

Inouye said he called the hearing to seek input on the U.S.-Japan aviation argument as well as to hear from federal and state officials about progress in improving various airport, radar, traffic control, immigration and agricultural facilities and operations.

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