By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The federal Department of Transportation is considering making a new agreement for regular scheduled service to the Waimea airport.
Flights are guaranteed to the North Hawaii community through the federal Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes service to rural areas.
Three companies are seeking the contract, according to the DOT: Pacific Wings, Mokulele Airlines and Makani Kai.
A comment period ended Thursday.
Ron Hansen, CEO and president of Mokulele Airlines, said he expects a decision next week, while Makani Kai owner Richard Schuman said that could take 30 days.
Pacific Wings, which couldn’t be immediately reached for comment, had the last EAS agreement, its competitors said.
Sherman Warner, president of the Waimea Community Association, said regular service from that company ended around 2007.
Hansen said it had petitioned to remove itself from the program, which requires regular flights be maintained.
The WCA is supporting Mokulele Airlines’ proposal.
Warner said the demand is there for the service.
“It was certainly quick,” he said of flights from Waimea.
“There were no long lines and taking off your shoes.”
Without regular air service, Waimea residents have to drive to Kailua-Kona or Hilo to fly between the islands.
“It will save people a long drive,” Warner said. “It’s convenience.”
The DOT will decide which location Waimea residents will be able to fly to for the guaranteed service, Schuman said.
That could be either Honolulu or Kahului, Maui, he said.
Schuman said his company would only be able to provide service to and from Honolulu.
But what it does offer is reliability, he said, noting he keeps a plane and pilot on standby if needed.
The EAS program would cover 12 flights a week at 80 percent of the cost, Schuman said.
His flights to Honolulu from Waimea would cost about $100 each way, he said.
Airlines can add other flights and destinations.
The carrier has the option of setting the fares, Hansen said.
He projects his to be between $59 and $89 one-way from Waimea to Maui, he said. Rates would be a little higher to Honolulu but comparable to other airlines, Hansen said.
“We try to keep it very fair,” he said of rates.
“All we do is work on volume.”
Hansen said Kahului is becoming better connected to the mainland and flights between there and Waimea could make sense for residents trying to travel out of state.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.