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Airline to resume flights cut in dispute


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POSTED: Friday, July 10, 2009

Pacific Wings was to resume flights to Kalaupapa, Molokai, today after all Hawaii flights were canceled the past two days because of an alleged assault involving airport security and an airline employee.

Flights to Hana and Kamuela are expected to resume as early as Monday. Almost 50 flights were canceled Wednesday and yesterday after Pacific Wings reported a 24-year-old customer service supervisor was allegedly assaulted by airport security.

State Sen. J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai) said that in the past two days, doctors and employees of the National Park Service and the Department of Health had to fly to Hoolehua Airport on Molokai on Island Air and hike the steep 2,000-foot trail to reach Kalaupapa.

Pacific Wings plans to hire its own security for its terminal at Kahului Airport, which will result in increased fares up to $225 and a fee for passenger's first baggage to offset security costs. Owner Greg Kahlstorf said the company will also stop accepting cargo and cease agent service at the terminal for safety reasons. “;It's basically a repeat of history that's continuing to repeat itself,”; said company President Gabriel Kimbrell.

Pacific Wings officials said the company resumed flights today for inventory reasons and because it lacked the resources to continue its battle with the Department of Transportation. Pacific Wings is the only scheduled airline at airports in Hana, Maui, and Kalaupapa.

Sometime after 11 a.m. Tuesday, five Securitas airport officers attempted to access a restricted area at the Pacific Wings terminal in Kahului, according to Kimbrell.

Security personnel were there to issue three citations. The employee attempted to close the door as they tried to force their way in. Kimbrell alleged she was pushed and slammed against the side of a wall and suffered bruises on her leg. Earlier that day, Kimbrell said employees had informed security officers to send the citations to the company's attorney or to mail them because of previous run-ins with other security company officers. “;The female employee doesn't want to come to work (today) unless she can be assured safety,”; said Kahlstorf.

Police were called. Officers who responded could not confirm the employee was injured or harassed by airport security, said Assistant Police Chief Wayne Ribao. No arrests were made.

Soon after, airport officials informed Pacific Wings it would not be allowed to conduct maintenance operations on its aircraft at the airport. The company then canceled flights in Hawaii starting Wednesday, citing safety concerns for its employees and passengers.

Brennon Morioka, state transportation director, said, “;None of our law enforcement officers or our staff touched any specific Pacific Wings employee nor raised their voices to any specific Pacific Wings employee.”;

The citations totaling $400 were issued to Pacific Wings for storage of an excess amount of fuel or hazardous material and failing to report a recent fuel spill.

Pacific Wings and the department have a history of conflict. In October 2001 the airline cut back flights to Hana after state transportation officials turned down the company's request for additional hangar space to maintain its aircraft. Kahlstorf sought federal security in October 2005 after alleging he was assaulted during a meeting between Pacific Wings and state-contracted Wackenhut Corp. He also alleged one of his employees was assaulted by Wackenhut guards.

A month later, state transportation officials banned a Wackenhut guard from working in any state facility after he was caught on video spitting at Kimbrell, then an airline operations manager, and allegedly threatening to shoot him in the head.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.