Mokulele Expands Fleet for Molokai, Lanai | News, Sports, Jobs
Mokulele Airlines hopes to bring in two 30-passenger planes by mid to late May that will help ferry high school sports teams, residents in wheelchairs and tall passengers from Molokai and Lanai to Oahu.
The airline plans to expand its fleet from ‘Ohana by Hawaiian and its 48-seat planes permanently ended service to Molokai and Lanai last year.
“Before the release of Ohana, we had never thought of a bigger plane”, Mokulele executive vice president Richard Schuman said on Tuesday. “That’s not our business model.”
But, says Schuman, with Molokai’s request and the void left by ‘Ohana, “We had to step in to help.”
The 30-passenger Saab 340 planes will not replace the nine-seat Cessnas that Mokulele flies, but will supplement them at peak times, such as on Fridays when “every seat is sold out” and Mondays when people return after a weekend, Schuman said.
Mokulele envisions one round trip per day between Molokai and Oahu and one round trip per day between Lanai and Oahu; the market between those islands and Maui isn’t big enough to regularly fly the plane to Valley Island, Schuman said.
However, the airline plans to offer charter options to Molokai and Lanai sports teams as well as other large groups flying to Maui, Schuman said.
Mokulele will have four pilots for both planes and also plans to hire four to six flight attendants as well as mechanics and ground staff. In total, there could be about a dozen additional ground personnel between Molokai, Lanai and Oahu.
Two of the pilots, who were already working for Mokulele, left last week for training on the mainland which is expected to last about three weeks. They should then do “trial runs” with the Federal Aviation Administration on future routes between Oahu, Lanai and Molokai, Schuman said.
The airline is also scrambling to secure parking spaces for larger planes at the already crowded Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
“That’s probably the biggest challenge we have right now because they’re taking up so much space, and especially in Honolulu, they don’t have a parking space for us,” says Schumann. “So we’re working with the state on that.”
In recent years, residents of Molokai and Lanai have seen their transportation options dwindle with the loss of the Molokai and later Ohana Ferry by Hawaiian, both of which were capable of carrying large cargo and large groups. .
Mokulele and Makani Kai, founded by Schuman, the two main commuter airlines serving Lanai and Molokai, merged in 2020 and became the sole passenger carrier for the two islands when ‘Ohana by Hawaiian ended it in 2021.
To provide some of the services that the larger aircraft once provided, Mokulele lifted its weight limit and installed special seats capable of carrying passengers weighing over 400 pounds. It also used the Ohana ramp to help passengers in wheelchairs board, but smaller nine-seater planes aren’t ideal for accessibility.
“We don’t want to say no, so we figured out how to accommodate them,” says Schumann. “It’s the best we have to work with until the big plane arrives.”
Mokulele had planned to bring in a 19-passenger Beechcraft 1900, but opted for the 30-passenger Saab aircraft instead. “After thinking about the whole Molokai and Lanai challenge,” Schuman explained. “Having lift capacity when the islands need it is important, like groups, school events.”
While global shipping issues delayed painting the plane because the paint shop couldn’t get materials, Schuman said. “it wasn’t really a waste of time” because Mokulele was busy working on FAA-required manuals that describe the operations of each aircraft.
The new 30-passenger planes will be painted with the logo of Southern Airways, which acquired Mokulele in 2019, to help differentiate it from smaller nine-seater planes. “so that people are not confused when booking”, said Keith Sisson, Mokulele’s chief of staff.
Schumann said “all of this was done because of the people of Molokai,” who depend on off-island services and goods. He said he posted photos and updates of the new planes on a Molokai Facebook page. “just to let them know it’s not pie in the sky.”
“It’s not a quick process, but getting them here is a big hurdle, and it lifts the spirits of the people of Molokai,” he said.
*Colleen Uechi can be reached at [email protected]