Spurred by growing demand, a surge in passenger traffic, and maybe some concern over growing competition, low-cost interisland carrier Mokulele Airlines purchased two new Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft earlier this month and announced plans to increase service across the Aloha State this spring.
“Our business has doubled,” said Ron Hansen, Mokulele’s CEO. “We carried twice as many passengers in February as we did during the same month last year, and our load factors are in the high-80% range; some weeks they’re even in the high 90s, which means we’re often turning away customers.”
The airline expects to take possession of the two new nine-seat aircraft later this month and, in April, increasing its Cessna Grand Caravan total to seven planes, and in the spring it will boost its current schedule of around 80 flights per day between Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii to more than 100.
Purchased by TransPac Aviation in 2011, the Kailua-Kona-based Mokulele Airlines transports approximately 15,000 passengers a day within Hawaii, according to Hansen, and will likely increase service on existing Honolulu-Molokai and Honolulu-Kapalua, Maui, routes while adding more flights between Maui’s large Kahului Airport and the Hana Airport on the Valley Isle’s remote eastern coast.
Hansen attributed Mokulele’s increased demand and passenger traffic figures over the last two years to a significant improvement in both customer service and on-time arrivals and departures, noting that about 60% of the carrier’s passengers are residents and 40% are visitors.
“We’re definitely seeing more visitors today,” he said, adding that the company’s increased Web-based marketing and advertising has helped boost business from the tourism market.
Mokuele’s fleet expansion announcement came just a few weeks after the purchase of interisland competitor Island Air by Oracle founder and CEO Larry Ellison, who also bought 98% of the island of Lanai last summer, and the introduction of Hawaiian Airlines’ new Ohana interisland turboprop division, which will begin flights between Honolulu, Molokai and Lanai this summer.
“I’m sure it will have some effect, maybe short-term,” Hansen said of the recent interisland market developments’ possible impact on Mokulele business. “People will want to try [Hawaiian’s] new aircraft and new service. I fully expect that.”
Hansen is also expecting Ellison’s Island Air purchase to result in more Lanai flights but noted that the Pineapple Isle was one of Mokulele’s smaller markets. Still, the recent changes by interisland competitors have left Hansen a little uneasy.
“I’m concerned about it,” he said. “But we’ll just continue to do what we’re doing and try to improve the service and hopefully retain our customers.”
A Mokulele flight certainly offers visitors a different experience than those operated by its competition. The airline’s small aircraft fly at a much lower altitude, offering far more intimate views of the islands and the Pacific, low enough to even possibly spot humpback whales from January through the end of March.
“Everyone gets a window seat,” Hansen said. “I think everybody that rides on Mokulele the first time, and especially the tourists, are really, really surprised. It’s like a sightseeing flight, and they get to see things they would not see in a jet.”