Isle air tour company lays off 20 employees


POSTED: Tuesday, October 28, 2008

As an adjustment to the current economic times, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters is laying off 20 employees at its Big Island and Maui operations.

Most of the workers are part time, according to Patti Chevalier, president of Blue Hawaiian, but could be rehired once the economy picks up. The 20 employees represent about 13 percent of the total staff of about 150.

Blue Hawaiian, a helicopter tour operator since 1985, has 17 helicopters between Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, where it has facilities at both Hilo and Waikoloa.

“;It's just efficiencies,”; said Chevalier. “;It's the only responsible thing to do when you're riding out an economic downturn.”;

Some responsibilities will be consolidated, while extra help hired during boom times will be scaled back.

But Chevalier said considering the overall economic picture, Blue Hawaiian expects to weather the storm. Fortunately, she said, the company is able to move the helicopters around to serve areas with growing demand.

Blue Hawaiian opened an Oahu base in August to tap into the Honolulu visitor market. It is listed at No. 2 in popularity among Kahului's activities on TripAdvisor, and is a family-owned business run by Dave and Patti Chevalier.

Tours vary by length and price, but include the West Maui Mountains and Circle of Fire tour over lava flows on the Big Island. On Oahu, three new ECO-Star tours were introduced, including Waikiki by Starlight, The Aloha Circle and Blue Skies of Oahu.

Travel wholesalers list prices ranging from between about $100 to $250 for various tours. ECO-Star flights cost slightly more. Charter flights are also available.

Hawaii's companies have been trimming staff across several sectors of the economy, sending the state's unemployment rate up to 4.5 percent in September, the highest level in more than six-and-a-half years.

Patti said some relief comes from the recent decline in jet fuel costs. Blue Hawaiian also invested in a several fuel-efficient helicopters eight years ago - ECO-Star Eurocopters, - which she said offer a smoother and quieter flight.

“;We've been through this over the years,”; Patti said. “;There's a cycle. Hawaii is one of the world's top destinations, and is always going to be a great destination.”;