Ohana by Hawaiian took delivery of the first of three ATR 42 aircraft earlier this month and will begin certification proving flights with FAA observers this week, a process that has been delayed by more than six months due, in part, to the federal government’s budget sequestration.
The turboprop subsidiary of Hawaiian Holdings, parent company to Hawaiian Airlines, Ohana by Hawaiian was originally scheduled to begin ticketed daily service between Honolulu and the islands of Molokai and Lanai early last summer.
“There were no FAA resources available to begin the certification exercise out here in Hawaii,” said Hadden Watt, the managing director for Ohana by Hawaiian. “So we put a lot of our preparation on hold in terms of training people and invested in other activities.”
If the current process goes smoothly, Watt expects FAA certification to wrap up next month.
“People should be able to start buying tickets in February,” he said. “And we hope to have our first revenue flights within the first quarter.”
Hawaiian has dominated the Aloha State’s interisland market since the failure of Aloha Airlines in 2008, but the company quit serving the communities on Molokai and Lanai in 2004, leaving the destinations to smaller carriers like Island Air and Mokulele Airlines.
Asked why Hawaiian is returning to the small neighbor islands a decade later, Watt said, “We want to be the carrier of choice for Hawaii and want to be able to offer our customers all of Hawaii.”
Residents will make up the majority of Ohana’s Molokai and Lanai business, but connecting visitors to the islands will certainly be a key to success. Watt noted that Molokai is a destination appealing to a particular niche of travelers, but tourism on Lanai may be headed for a significant upswing, following the island’s purchase by billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.
“With the Four Seasons properties there, tourism is obviously an important part of their economy,” Watt explained. “And with the change in ownership last year, and the investment that’s going into those properties and the island, we anticipate there being an increase in interest from visitors to the island of Lanai.”
According to Watt, agents will be able to book Ohana flights through all the traditional Hawaiian Airlines sales and reservations systems, and the turboprop carrier will be offering packages in partnership with the two Lanai Four Seasons properties once ticket sales begin likely later next month.