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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Interisland cuts questioned

By Frank Cho and Gordon Pang
Advertiser Staff Writers

After reductions in flight schedules the past several months, the state is raising concerns with Hawai'i's two major interisland air carriers over whether capacity is now inadequate.

Aloha and Hawaiian airlines have been operating under a limited federal antitrust exemption since October that allows the carriers to jointly set capacity levels for the interisland market on a monthly basis in an effort to reduce expenses.

Both airlines have said they are monitoring the situation closely and adding flights to Neighbor Island destinations as warranted.

But Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday said the growing difficulty of getting a seat on an interisland flight is not just a convenience issue, but an economic one for Neighbor Island businesses.

"This goes back to my very first day in office and people having difficulty getting flights down (to Ho-nolulu) for the inauguration," Lingle said. "We're urging (the airlines) to take another look at how they've divided up the capacity."

Hawaiian and Aloha have said they have been struggling financially in the interisland market because of too many flights and too few passengers.

That is why the airlines sought and received a federal antitrust exemption — the only one of its kind to be granted by airline regulators in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The exemption took effect Oct. 1 and allows the carriers to coordinate capacity on routes between Honolulu and Lihu'e, Kaua'i; Kahului, Maui; Kona and Hilo, Hawai'i through Oct. 1 of next year.

"I would say that both of the airlines have been very concerned about the issues as well, very cooperative and open with our staff. We've talked to them about it. And I think they are understanding that some changes need to be made," Lingle said.

Under the antitrust guidelines, Lingle could withdraw her support for the exemption at any time, and force regulators to revoke the exemption.

"We have been in discussions with the governor on airlift issues and we will continue to discuss the issues," said Stu Glauberman, a spokesman for Aloha Airlines. "I cannot discuss specific markets, but we are trying to match capacity with demand."

Hawaiian Airlines said it also is looking at adding more capacity, but some passengers are making it difficult for the carrier to know just how much is needed.

"What we are finding, in Hilo in particular, is that in many cases the capacity is there but we are experiencing a high rate of people double-booking flights," said Hawaiian spokesman Keoni Wagner. Double-booking occurs when a passenger makes reservations on several flights, but only takes one of those flights, leaving the other seats empty.

"What that does is take that seat out of inventory for other travelers," Wagner said.

To help alleviate some of the problem, smaller interisland commuter carrier Pacific Wings has asked the state for permission to add two daily flights from Kahului to Hilo by the end of the month, for a total of 18 additional seats daily. Pacific Wings said it also will seek permission to start flights from Honolulu to other Neighbor Island airports including Kona and and possibly Lana'i.

"We've been contacted by a number of businesses and people in the community to see if we could add service," said Greg Kahlstorf, president of Pacific Wings. "We chose Hilo because they have been suffering the most."

Davis Yogi, state airports administrator, said he will approve the application by Pacific Wings because the need for more seats is real.

"This is good news for Neighbor Island travelers," Yogi said. "We know there is a lot of expressed concern and we are trying to be supportive of every new opportunity that will permit people to travel interisland."

Reach Frank Cho at 525-8088, or at fcho@honoluluadvertiser.com.