Island Upstart

Passengers bid Mokulele Airlines a warm aloha

By: By Marty Wentzel

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Mokulele Airlines

On Nov. 19, a group of students from Honolulu’s Mokulele Elementary School boarded a new Mokulele Airlines jet for its inaugural flight from Honolulu to Kailua-Kona, on Hawaii’s Big Island.

“We are happy to welcome these young leaders from Mokulele Elementary School on board,” said Mokulele Airlines president Bill Boyer Jr. “After all, we think of ourselves as young leaders in Hawaii’s aviation industry, so we share both a leadership spirit and a name.” 

Mokulele Airlines already has partnerships with Alaska Airlines and WestJet. // (c) Embraer
Mokulele Airlines already has partnerships with
Alaska Airlines and WestJet. // (c) Embraer

In recent months, Mokulele Airlines has made the kind of attention-grabbing moves that upstarts are apt to make. It recently signed an airline service agreement with Republic Airways to operate up to four Embraer 170 jets between the islands. Along with Kailua-Kona, it is flying the jets to Lihue, Kauai, and, in the near future, it will add flights to Kahului, Maui, and Hilo on the Big Island. It has lined up partnerships with prominent players like Alaska Airlines and WestJet, and it has crafted its own rewards program.

That’s a lot of big news from a small company, but Boyer seems confident in its success. Since he bought the Big Island-based Mokulele in 2005, he has been growing it into what he believes will be a contender.

“[Our interisland] expansion is an effort to fill capacity left by the shutdown of Aloha and ATA Airlines [in spring 2008],” Boyer said. “We think there’s a lot of growth in the interisland air travel segment. People simply don’t have enough choices. Our goal is to meet that need.”

Indianapolis-based Republic Airways is providing Mokulele with $150 million in aircraft and airline parts as well as a line of credit.

“Our new partnership with Republic opens up worlds of possibilities for competitive, convenient and comfortable interisland air service, and it couldn’t come at a better time for Hawaii,” said Boyer.

Hawaii governor Linda Lingle praised the Mokulele-Republic partnership.

“This is very good news for the economy, while providing the people of Hawaii with an additional choice in interisland service,” Lingle said. “This agreement also means new job opportunities, and this is very welcome news for our residents.”

Former Aloha employees have filled about one-half of the jobs for the new venture.

Configured with six first-class and 64 coach seats, the Embraer jet is comfortable, quiet and fuel-efficient, said Boyer, and its operating costs are 30 to 35 percent lower than those of standard jets. It features six-foot, seven-inch ceilings, wide seats and aisles, large overhead storage and a layout that ensures that every seat is either a window or an aisle. All of Mokulele’s Embraer flights will board and deplane from jet bridges.

Meanwhile, in early December, Mokulele announced that it was joining Alaska Airlines’ mileage plan. Under the partnership, Alaska plan members earn 500 miles for each segment flown on Mokulele. To promote the new partnership, Alaska is giving its plan members double miles for travel on Mokulele (1,000 miles per segment) when they fly by Feb. 28.

For a limited time, Mokulele is giving away a free, one-way ticket to each client who joins its own member program. Called Mokulele Alii Rewards, the program provides travelers with access to member lounges, pre-boarding privileges and a guaranteed one-way interisland rate of no more than $79 in 2009. Members also hear about special discounts, and they do not have to pay fees for flight changes or baggage.

Additionally, Mokulele has begun a partnership with Canada-based WestJet, which is increasing its Hawaii service to 23 flights per week. The alliance between the two carriers allows clients traveling with WestJet greater convenience in connecting to the islands served by Mokulele, and it gives Hawaii residents more access to WestJet’s network of 51 destinations. The two carriers are finalizing details on an arrangement to promote each other on their respective Web sites.

“I recently flew on WestJet to Calgary and was impressed with the in-flight experience,” said Boyer. “That’s one reason why they are one of the most profitable airlines in North America.”

Recognizing the importance of the onboard experience, Boyer is touting Mokulele’s own customer service.

“We like to think we have some of the friendliest, most professional air crews in the islands,” said Boyer. “Even though most of our flights are short, our customers tell us that they appreciate the level of service we provide.”

Ultimately, said Boyer, travel agents can only benefit their clients by telling them about his ambitious young airline and the destinations it serves.

“If clients are making the trip out here, they may as well take the time to visit some of our beautiful outer islands,” said Boyer.