Airlines tell state
they’ll need help if
war breaks out

Officials say there needs
to be a plan to keep seats filled

By Lyn Danninger

Airlines would need as much promotional help as possible to avoid a downturn in business in the event of a war with Iraq, local airline executives told legislators yesterday.

"One big issue will be to the extent we can stimulate demand, so the state should have a robust promotion plan for Hawaii," said Keoni Wagner, vice president of public affairs for Hawaiian Airlines, before the Select Committee on War Preparedness.

The state should be ready to go with a marketing plan that would heavily promote Hawaii, Wagner said.

Members of the 10-member committee, appointed by House Speaker Calvin Say, asked the executives how the state could help the industry during and after a war with Iraq.

Keeping tourists coming will be key, said Glenn Zander, Aloha Airlines president and chief executive officer.

Whether the airlines will continue with the current number of flights depends upon the length of the war and public reaction to it, he said.

"Really, it will come down to how the war goes and its duration," Zander said. "Demand drives lift so it's going to be a demand-driven situation."

Recalling the events immediately after 9/11, when Japanese visitors were stranded in Hawaii, Gilbert Kimura, regional sales manager for Japan Airlines, asked for assurances that the state would help with food and lodging if visitors were stranded.

"Over 10,000 Japanese tourists were stranded here. JAL sent planes, but people were panicking, there was mass confusion. It took us almost four days to clear up. So the perception in Japan is that if an incident happens anywhere in the U.S., they'll close airspace and people will be stranded. The state should say: 'We'll take care of lodging or meals for anyone stranded,' " he said.

For executives from United Airlines, American Airlines and Continental Airlines, a waiver of anti-trust rules that forbid airlines to discuss fares and routes, plus a temporary relaxation of various fees and taxes were the main requests.

"I would ask you to sit down with the Airlines Committee of Hawaii to talk about suspension of taxes on jet fuel and airline fees," said Mike Navares, United's general manager for Hawaii.

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