Hawaii's World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, August 8, 1996

direct air service coming

IF all goes well - and it hardly ever does when too many hurdles are involved - Hawaii could have it first direct air service to Russia starting December.

Weekly flights over the 4,300-mile Honolulu-Vladivostok route would be pioneered by Orient Avia Airlines, just two years old with 65 percent of its shareholders in Far Eastern Russia. The line has seven planes and 100 pilots, each with 2,000-3,000 hours of flight experience.

Two top OAA executives were in Hawaii last month to clear the way. Youngish Amiran G. Kurtanidze is president. A 40-year airline veteran with Aeroflot leadership experience, Vladimir H. Tokhonov, is senior vice president.

They made the rounds to establish local contacts and spoke at a Pacific and Asian Affairs Council lunch. The state has assured them it wants to help.

Their plan is to connect the Hawaii flights with the 4,000-mile Vladivostok-Moscow route they fly daily. They also connect from Vladivostok to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

They know Hawaii from past visits, are charmed by the islands and think other Russians will be, too. One back-home news article about the service advised single Russians to hold off on marrying until they can tie the knot in Hawaii. It added that islanders today welcome tourism as an economic benefit and no longer kill and eat travelers as they did Captain Cook.

OAA wants to use Vladivostok-Honolulu as a toe dipped into the waters from which they can judge the feasibility of other Russia-U.S. flights.

Flight time will be about eight hours if Japan will allow overflights, about 10 if they must be routed around Japan past Korea. OAA hopes to avoid becoming a pawn in Japan's quest to get back its northern islands from Russia.

The start-up plane will be an Iluyshin-62M carrying 138 passengers. It is not the Stage 3 low sound level required for Honolulu International Airport, but one-year waivers for Stage 2 planes have been granted elsewhere in the U.S. for other start-up lines. The state is working to get one here.

If its market test with its own planes is successful, the OAA executives said they might then lease quieter, bigger U.S. planes.

The visitors said there are many people in Eastern Russia today able to afford travel to Hawaii, but drew skeptical reactions when they estimated the round-trip economy fare at $1,000. They added it could be reduced by package arrangements. They hope for over 5,000 travelers a year each way.

They are not yet ready to announce their local agent. However, Marsha B. Owen, a Realtor with Mary Worrall Associates, is likely to become Russia's honorary consul in Hawaii. She has a Russian background and helped with OAA's preliminary contacts.

HAWAII-Russia contacts date to Russian ship arrivals beginning in 1804. They include a disavowed attempt by a buccaneer representative of a Russian trading company to take over Kauai in the early 1800s, whaling ship visits from Hawaii and work by 2,000 Russians on Maui sugar fields early in this century.

Historian John Stephan records that a Russian known here as Nicholas Russel was the Senate president in Hawaii's first Territorial Legislature. Russia had consular representatives here from 1859 to 1923.

For years Vladivostok, Russia's major ice-free port in the Pacific, was closed to foreigners because of its big naval base.

In 1986, however, Mikhail Gorbachev visited as president of the U.S.S.R. and declared it would one day become "a major international center, a sea of trade and culture, a city of festivals, sporting meetings, congresses and scientific symposiums." He also predicted enormous expansion in its future trade and political importance. Stay tuned.

A.A. Smyser is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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