Sunday, July 29, 2001

Kamuela airport
a more likely target

Residents say the subsidy is
essential for business, emergencies

By Lyn Danninger

Residents of the Big Island's Waimea/Kamuela district are no happier than their Hana counterparts about possible cuts to the federally subsidized Essential Air Service program that maintains the district's direct air service.

But they may have a more difficult time arguing to keep the eight-seat Cessna air service provided by Pacific Wings.

That's because the round-trip drive to the closest major airport, Keahole-Kona International Airport, takes around 90 minutes

Moreover, geography is not the same inhibiting factor as in Hana.

Any cuts to the EAS program would likely impact Kamuela airport first, said Kevin Adams, a consultant for EAS in Washington, D.C.

Currently, Pacific Wings operates two flights daily from Oahu to Kamuela and one flight from Kahului to Kamuela.

But like people in Hana, Waimea/Kamuela residents say air service is vital for their community.

"For many people, it's a quality of life issue, like going for specialty medical care. It can become an enormous ordeal to get to a higher level of care," said Patti Cook, owner of Cook's Discoveries, a specialty retailer.

Limited connection options and extended ground transfers add to the problem, making same-day business or personal travel a challenge when you include the commute to Kona, she said.

"For a lot of us, especially in small business, time is very precious. Going back and forth to Kona is a two-hour investment of time not including the flight," Cook said.

Area farms, ranches and veterinarians make use of the service and a number of area residents commute back and forth to work in Honolulu every day or on a weekly basis.

Greg Kahlstorf, president of Pacific Wings, said that while the airline does not generate a profit from its EAS operations, the subsidies have allowed it to avoid reducing flights.

If Kamuela's EAS subsidy is dropped, there would be a domino effect on the remaining communities.

In order for Pacific Wings to stay in business, flights would more likely be dictated by mainland airline connections and tourist schedules rather than resident's needs, he said.

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