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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 29, 2010

Daily Tokyo flight to Kona grounded

By Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Japan Airlines' jets will continue to fly to the Honolulu International Airport, seen above, but not to Kona, the airline announced yesterday.

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State tourism officials are considering asking other airlines to pick up the Tokyo-to-Kona route that Japan Airlines plans to discontinue this fall.

JAL said yesterday it will cancel its daily flight from the Narita International Airport to the Kona International Airport on Oct. 30, while at the same time launching a new daily flight from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Honolulu.

The loss of the Kona flight will deliver a blow to the Big Island economy, which benefited from the spending by the 69,175 visitors JAL brought to the island last year. The total number of visitors to the Big Island last year was 1.2 million.

Although the number of Japanese visitors who flew to Kona on JAL last year was 4.4 percent higher than in 2008, the airline still had difficulty making money on the route, with the Boeing 767-300 aircraft flying 72 percent full on average, officials said.

Nonetheless, the increase in passengers on the route and an overall rise in the number of Japanese visitors traveling to the Big Island in the first three months of the year are hopeful signs, said Marsha Wienert, the state tourism liaison.

"These are positive indicators that may encourage other airlines that are looking at Kona," she said.

Wienert, along with Hawaii Tourism Authority executives, flew to the Big Island yesterday to meet with county Mayor Billy Kenoi and Big Island visitor bureau executive director George Applegate to discuss strategies to respond to the JAL flight cancellation.

"Direct flights are critical to the well-being of our working families and small businesses, and we will work with all of the major players to preserve this vital component of our economy," Kenoi said in a prepared statement before attending the meeting.

David Uchiyama, head of marketing for the HTA, said one option that would be brought up at the meeting would be to approach other airlines that serve Hawai'i from Japan, including United, Delta and All Nippon Airways, to see if they would be interested in routing a flight through Kona.

Uchiyama and Mike McCartney, HTA president and chief executive, traveled to Tokyo two weeks ago to press their case with JAL officials for keeping the Narita-Kona flight. The two outlined efforts the HTA has made to better promote the Big Island to Japanese visitors, Uchiyama said.

The Kona flight is one of 15 international routes being cut by JAL as part of its bankruptcy reorganization that will eliminate 16,500 jobs at the airline.

JAL also said it will close its office in Kona, which is the state's only port of entry besides Honolulu for Japanese visitors. A JAL spokeswoman said she did not know how many JAL employees in Kona would lose their jobs.

The final JAL flight is scheduled to arrive Oct. 30, the same day the Haneda-to-Honolulu service, also using a Boeing 767-300 aircraft, starts, according to JAL.