By ERIN MILLER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Hawaiian Airlines is trying again for Kona-Tokyo direct flights.
Airline officials on Tuesday announced their intent to apply Thursday with the U.S. Department of Transportation for operating slots at Tokyo International Airport at Haneda that American Airlines is intended to return later this year. American Airlines announced its intention to give up the slots last week.
No routine direct flights from Tokyo have come to Kona since 2010, when Japan Airlines ended its service here.
The route would be beneficial not just for Hawaii Island, where more visitors would come directly, but for all of the country, Hawaiian Airlines Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Ann Botticelli said Tuesday. The passengers on the flights would come from throughout Asia and be ready to spend money across the country, she added.
United Airlines has also indicated interest in the route.
About a year ago, Hawaiian Airlines followed a similar application process, attempting to get approval for the direct Kona-Tokyo route. Federal officials eventually granted the route to Delta Airlines, to fly from Seattle to Haneda.
“Our enthusiasm for this service and the benefits it would provide to Hawaii and to the United States is as strong as it has ever been,” Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Mark Dunkerley said in a written statement. “Kona is Hawaii’s second-largest destination market for Japanese visitors, and daily nonstop service from Tokyo would generate a substantial amount of foreign spending that will invigorate the local, state and national economies.”
Hawaiian Airlines has offered flights between Honolulu and Japan since November 2010, when it launched daily service between Haneda and Honolulu. The airline added service between Honolulu and Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo and Sendai, and now has 6,700 seats per week between Japan and the Hawaiian Islands.
One hurdle for this application, the same as with last year’s attempt, is the lack of U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel in Kona, Botticelli said.
“Certainly we would need that resolved,” she added.
State Department of Transportation officials, working with state and congressional legislators, have been trying to re-establish customs service at the Kona airport.
“The increase in air seats would positively impact the economy here,” Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vivian Landrum said. “We support it wholeheartedly.”
Getting those direct flights back has been one of the chamber’s priorities this year, she added.
In August, Big Island Visitors Burea Executive Director Ross Birch said Hawaii Island had seen an 8 percent increase in visitors from Japan this year compared with last year. The number of Japanese visitors staying only on Hawaii Island is down 17 percent compared to 2010. Birch said the island would almost certainly at least gain more nights of hotel occupancy by the visitors who came here first, rather than Oahu.
Last year, Botticelli asked Hawaii Island residents to write letters supporting the company’s application. She received 175 such letters. She said anyone interested in providing such support — she’s already been contacted by a few organizations — should let her know and she will be able to provide information on how to do so later. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Erin Miller at email@example.com.