Friday, September 7, 2001

Maui-based Pacific Wings is cutting back on some routes
to rural areas because of an ongoing dispute with the state
Department of Transportation over facilities at Kahului
airport, Pacific Wings President Greg Kahlstorf said.

Clipped Wings

The Maui-based commuter carrier
says it will discontinue some of its flights

By Lyn Danninger

Pacific Wings, the small Maui-based commuter airline that serves some of Hawaii's remote locations, yesterday told state officials it will discontinue some routes as early as this weekend because of its limited facilities at Kahului airport.

In a letter sent to state Department of Transportation Director Brian Minaii, Pacific Wings President Greg Kahlstorf said the airline will be forced to cancel the only non-stop air service between Maui and Lanai, West Maui and Honolulu as well as one flight per day between Honolulu and the Big Island's Kamuela. The company had been running about 50 daily departures of its small planes statewide.

Several thousand passengers a year would be affected by the cuts to those services, Kahlstorf said.

A representative from state Department of Transportation confirmed the department had received Pacific Wings' letter.

Pacific Wings has also scrapped expansion plans to cover recently discontinued weekend Island Air flights between Honolulu, Kahului and Molokai, Kahlstorf said.

The airline, which is under contract with the federal Essential Air Service rural airport program to serve Molokai's Kalaupapa, Hana on Maui and Kamuela, had been in discussions with the state DOT over its facilities at the Kahului airport.

For four years since it began at Kahului airport, Pacific Wings has operated out of what it thought were temporary quarters -- two hangars for its six planes on one side of the airport runway and a 600 square-foot trailer to run operations and reservations on the other side of the runway.

Maintenance is performed in two aging hangars with limited electrical facilities. In June, Pacific Wings was cited for safety violations -- for adding power strips that increased the number of electrical outlets for maintenance equipment and provided lighting for mechanics. It was also cited for storing more than the allowed volume of waste oil.

The company is contesting both citations and says that if the airline had adequate space and light to begin with, the violations would not have occurred. Kahlstorf believes the state is required by law to provide proper waste receptacles for excess oil but does not do so.

The Maui County Prosecutor's Office was granted a two-month extension by the court to investigate the citations.

In addition to requesting additional hangar and office space, Pacific Wings had tried to lease a portion of land at the airport and build its own facilities. But while land was available, construction at the airport has been on hold for several years.

DOT Airports Administrator Jerry Matsuda, who recently announced he will be retiring at the end of this year, said a lawsuit over the proposed extension to the Kahului runway has effectively tied up all construction at the airport for the past five years.

With new construction at a standstill, in 1999 Pacific Wings asked the DOT for more hangar space from the state's existing inventory, in particular an empty hangar adjacent to the airline's existing hangars, and for permission to add another trailer to house its operations.

Recent meetings and a flurry of correspondence between Pacific Wings, the DOT, an assortment of elected representatives and the Federal Aviation Administration have yet to yield any results, Kahlstorf said.

FAA Pacific area representative Tweet Coleman said her organization would eventually like to see an additional hangar designated for whichever airline holds the EAS contract, whether or not it is Pacific Wings. The FAA has met with the state DOT about the situation, she said.

In the meantime, it is hard for the airline to retain staff and service its aircraft under poor conditions, Kahlstorf said.

The company was told in writing by the DOT in July it could occupy a small storage room adjacent to one of the hangars, but so far that has failed to materialize, Kahlstorf said. There has also been no follow-up to commitments made by airport administrators to develop lots for long-term lease and construction of permanent hangars at Kahului airport, he said.

DOT officials had also previously said current rules prohibit the Airports Division from making any changes to the hangar waitlist. Pacific Wings had been No. 11 on the waiting list for the remaining hangar at Kahului Airport. Those ahead on the list include mostly private individuals and small airlines without regular schedules, according to the DOT. To further complicate matters, Pacific Wings recently received a letter from the Airports Division informing the company it had been removed from the wait list for failure to send a letter, required yearly, notifying the division of its intent to remain on the hangar waiting list.

But Marilyn Kali, public information officer for the DOT, said yesterday that her department is still waiting for an opinion from the state Attorney General's Office regarding a possible change in DOT rules that could facilitate additional hangar space for the airline.

"I've been in touch with the Attorney General's Office but it doesn't appear they will be able to give an opinion until Monday," Kali said. "Hopefully something can be worked out."

Meanwhile, Kahlstorf said he has no choice but to cut back services.

"Unfortunately, we can no longer continue to compensate for inadequate facilities and administrative delays," he said.

To add the company's woes, in July, federal Emergency Air Service funding, which helps to subsidize air service to Hana, Kalaupapa and Kamuela, fell into jeopardy and Congress is considering halting the entire program. More immediately, a shortfall in the U.S. Department of Transportation's budget and a change in eligibility rules could eliminate some existing EAS airports, such as Kamuela.

In an Aug. 16 letter sent to Big Island and Maui mayors, the head of the EAS program, Dennis DeVany, said that despite assurances received by the mayors from state Department of Transportation officials, eligibility changes in the program will be implemented. DeVany also told the mayors EAS funding for next fiscal year is uncertain.

Hawaii's congressional delegation, and more recently Gov. Ben Cayetano and Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono wrote to the U.S. Department of Transportation asking for Hawaii's EAS airports to be given an exemption to any future cuts in the program subsidies.

In a letter sent Aug. 20, Cayetano explained some of the unique transportation challenges faced by residents in small communities such as Hana and Kamuela.

Citing everything from treacherous roads and changeable weather conditions to Hana's 52 one-lane bridges and the perils of wandering wild donkeys and loose cattle on Kamuela's roads, Cayetano said maintaining convenient and affordable air access is vital to area residents and important in maintaining their quality of life. Any change in the rules governing the subsidy program would accelerate the demise of scheduled services to such remote areas, he said.

In the letter announcing the impending flight cuts, Kahlstorf noted that efforts to preserve EAS funding could be undermined if there is no solution to Pacific Wings' space problems.

"It's a shame," Kahlstorf said. "Senior state leaders have made their position on EAS and inter-island air service clear. We do not understand why it doesn't appear to be a priority for Hawaii DOT and the Airports Administration."

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