Hawaiian-Aloha merger would trim flights 10 percent
By Susan Hooper
Advertiser Staff Writer
Interisland flights would be cut about 10 percent to 12 percent but all Mainland flights would be retained under tentative plans for a merged carrier, the executive overseeing the combination of Hawaiian and Aloha airlines said yesterday.
"It's something I don't know if the public will notice at all, because it's flights that are taking off wing tip to wing tip, where there are 10 passengers on each flight," Greg Brenneman said in an interview yesterday of the cuts in the interisland schedule.
Brenneman, a former Continental Airlines executive who will be chairman and chief executive of the new airline, offered no specifics yesterday on which interisland flights may be cut, saying those decisions are still being made.
Hawaiian has 123 daily interisland flights and Aloha has 121 daily interisland flights, spokesmen for each airline said yesterday.
Brenneman, who returned to the Mainland yesterday, was in the Islands since last week meeting with employees and public officials to discuss plans for the merger. Unions representing employees with both airlines have also been meeting to prepare for the merger.
Brenneman also said yesterday that a plan has not yet been developed for the two airlines to collaborate before the merger on routes, schedules and other operations under an antitrust exemption passed by Congress last November.
"We're still looking at that and working on it and talking about what we'll do there," Brenneman said of the possibility of collaboration under the antitrust exemption. "I think that both airlines are still looking at proceeding with the exemption."
But Brenneman said his immediate focus has been on meeting with airline employees and the four county mayors, as well as preparing a fare proposal for the merged airline released earlier this week.
Yesterday afternoon Brenneman met with about 300 Hawaiian and Aloha pilots at Ala Moana Hotel. Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents both airlines' pilots, said after the meeting that he foresaw no opposition to the merger in federal antitrust circles.
"I've been doing this a long time and been in Washington a long time, and I don't see a single bit of opposition from anybody that you would expect to influence this transaction in Washington," Woerth said. "I haven't found anybody who's trying to stop it.
"The way Washington works, these guys did their job and there's a lot of powerful people in the state who helped this get this far. I'll be more than surprised if this doesn't close."
Woerth said he was in Honolulu this week to help the two pilots' groups begin work on merging their contracts and pension plans. He said he believed the merger would be good for employees of both companies, in part because the tourism downturn after Sept. 11 and continuing economic pressures in Hawai'i's top tourism markets of Japan and the Mainland have make it difficult for two airlines to operate profitably in the Islands.
"For so many years, these two companies have been going tooth and nail and really getting nowhere," he said. "This (merger) has probably been crying out to be done for some time, but could you get regulatory approval to do it? You probably needed the current circumstances and suffering and recession and a lot of other calamities to get this deal done in the antitrust community and make it happen."
On Wednesday, Brenneman offered protection from merger-related furloughs to flight attendants and several work groups in the International Association of Machinists if, by the date the merger closes, they agree to new contract terms and merged seniority lists.
Pilots and mechanics have not received similar offers because officials working on the merger are still determining the type of fleet the new company will have.
Yesterday's pilot meeting was closed to reporters, but several who attended said a number of Hawaiian Airlines pilots made emotional statements to Brenneman about their opposition to the merger.
"The rank and file at Hawaiian Airlines does not buy it," Jeff Lilley, a Hawaiian Airlines pilot for 13 years, said after the meeting.
Some Hawaiian employees have said they believe Hawaiian is the financially stronger airline and will be propping up the financially weaker Aloha. Last week, some Hawaiian employees formed a group called Citizens for Competitive Air Travel to oppose the merger.
But Dave Wilson, an Aloha pilot for 22 years, said yesterday he supports the deal.
"Most of us see it as good for both companies in the long run," he said. "We're anxious to get through the hard part and get on with the growth."
Support for the merger also came yesterday from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who spoke at the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii's annual luncheon.
"Last evening, someone asked me, 'Why do you support it?' and I said, 'Let's put it the other way what if we just let the two airlines carry on the way they are doing?'" Inouye said.
"I said, 'I'll bet you, within a year, one or both would be out of business. One would go bankrupt and the other one will very likely be so weakened that you will have other kinds of competition coming in from airlines that might not have that special obligation to our people an obligation that was developed over the decades as being part of our community,' " Inouye said.
Advertiser staff writer William Cole contributed to this story.
Reach Susan Hooper at email@example.com or 525-8064.