Pacific Wings Stops and Restarts Hawai’i Flights, Craziness Ensues

It has been a really odd week for Pacific Wings. The airline has made its money flying nine-seaters around the Hawaiian islands to smaller cities, but in recent years it has begun to branch out on to the Mainland as well. In the last week, the airline abruptly shut down its Hawaiian operation and then had limited flights restart soon after, supposedly because of a physical fight with the government. Something very weird is going on here.

It is said to have all started when a state official came into the Pacific Wings hangar (that is owned by the state) in order to investigate some shenanigans around improper fuel storage. Pacific Wings didn’t want to allow them to enter, but they claim the officials shoved their representative aside. They even showed pictures of bruises on the agent, but there’s no way to prove where those came from, of course. (The bruises were also barely visible.)

Because of this supposed security breach, the CEO shut the airline down until the airline could make sure everything was in order. The state says there is no evidence of any sort of forced entry at all, but there is a history of confrontation between the state and the airline.

What’s really weird here is what happened next. Shortly after the shutdown, Pacific Wings’ CEO said they were starting up again but they wouldn’t return to their original schedule. He said that he is cutting most of the airline’s flights in Hawai’i and only keeping three routes. The most important flights here are the ones from Kalaupapa (on Molokai) to Honolulu. No other airline flies to Kalaupapa and the area is effectively cut off from the rest of the island by steep cliffs. Another route from Hana to Kahului (both on Maui) is only served by Pacific Wings but people can easily drive the route as well. The third route is Kamuela (on the Big Island) to Kahului. That’s also an airport with sparse service. On these routes, fares will now be more than doubled to $225 each way.

What the heck? This just seems so strange to blame a conflict with a state official for the shutdown of most of the airline. I think there’s something else to consider here, and that’s the airline’s mainland expansion.

Pacific Wings has made a habit of bidding for routes supported by the federal government – Essential Air Service routes. They fly under different names in each place – New Mexico Airlines, Kentucky Blue, and Georgia Skies, for example. But some of these are just getting started. For example, just last week there was an article talking about Pacific Wing’s impending entry into Owensboro, Kentucky. Hmm, interesting.

I have to wonder if they have an airplane shortage going on here. This conflict in Hawai’i gives them an excuse to shuffle some planes off to the mainland so they can start these other, government funded flights instead. That certainly sounds plausible.

Very strange to note CEO Greg Kahlstorf’s quote about lower fares in Owensboro:

I think the pricing, with some of the other carriers, was at a point where, well I wouldn’t have flown it. If it gets to the point where it’s less expensive to drive your car, buy the gas, park and you have a couple hours to do it, I think that’s what most people will do, so what we have to get people to do is think of flying as a viable alternative to driving.

He says this at the same time he more than doubles fares in Hawai’i. I suppose you can’t drive between the islands, but still . . . .


11 Responses to Pacific Wings Stops and Restarts Hawai’i Flights, Craziness Ensues

  1. Ron says:

    I just read in the paper yesterday that EAS funding is growing by about 50% this year, to over 150 Million. This money must be on the radar of many airlines.

  2. Dave says:

    Its good service out there. I’ve flown them several times to Molakai and Kahului. I am now scared to go back as this stop and start stuff leaves me wondering if I’ll be left forever on Kalaupapa like a certain colony of lepers….
    Seriously this service is essential to the residents and the tourists that travel to the remote parts of Hawaii. I hope this gets figured out. I really hope its not so they can send the planes to the mainland for more profitable routes.

  3. David SFeastbay says:

    While it’s a long drive to/from Hana, I certainly wouldn’t pay a lot of money to fly just to Kahului to connect to go somewhere else. Sounds like it’s time for Mokulele Airlines to use it’s 9 seaters in those smaller towns as scheduled service more then just charters. Since it’s using the E170 jets for inter island service, it could take the business away from Pacific Wings and be more stable for the locals and tourist to use and bring costs down.

    Sounds like Pacific Wings wants to become Mainland Wings.

  4. Dirk says:

    This sounds an awful lot like Aviacsa’s woahs with the Mexican government. They’re flying, then they’re not, then they are, then they’re not, then they are, and now they’re not. (That wasn’t for effect. They’ve actually been shut down 3 times in the last month).

  5. CF says:

    Dirk – This is different from Aviacsa in that the government shut down Aviacsa. This is just a self-imposed shut down by Pacific Wings, which makes it even weirder.

  6. Dave says:

    Pacific Wings all around runs what I would call a shady operation. I’ve never heard one good thing out of any pilot’s mouth about working there. Some of the pilots in the New Mexico Airlines operation that I knew from Denver said they had been asked on more than one occasion to pay for fuel out of their pocket. They smartly refused to fly until the company did instead.

    They seem to be one of those outfits who try and pay their employees as little as possible and then get rid of them when they start complaining. A group of pilots in the Hawaii operation were all fired coincidentally not long after there were rumors they were going to try and form a union.

    I don’t know if I’d honestly trust this CEO and I agree with CF that something doesn’t seem right here. Strange to blame flight reductions on a confrontation.

  7. Dan says:

    I once fueled once of those nine-seaters for a flight from LA to wherever it goes in Hawaii. And if you’re curious how it made it that far, they strapped in 3 150-gallon auxiliary fuel tanks. That was a LONG ride. 12 hours (I think) with a single pilot.

  8. Another Tom says:

    This is the second security-related run in on Maui. Seems odd. But the flights dropped were the low-fare ones on the “PW Express” operation, which directly competed with other carriers. Quite frankly, I don’t see how you can run a low-fare operation with a Cessna 208.

    Those flights that are left are indeed the EAS routes. And the whole schedule can be done with one airplane. Nonetheless, nobody is going to pay $246 (one way) for Hana-Kahului.

  9. Ex PW Pilot says:

    This type of situation isnt anything new for PW. To understand it one must realize they are not in business to make money in the first place, but is used primarily as a vehicle to get Kahlstorf’s name in the news at ALL costs. For their employees they make a point of going out of their way to cause drama by rescheduling when someone needs off, putting pilots that don’t get along together intentionally, and numerous other tactics. For the public they like to move their flights around without notice and have been known to resell the tickets of passengers who they dont like (that’s fun for a pilot when everyone shows up, let me tell you).

    PW is a joke and should be shut down, however they’re not going out of business as they are not in business for the money.

  10. Rob says:

    The only thing I can say about Pacific Wings was when I flew from Maui to Moloka’i r/t a few weeks ago, and I thought it was great. The pilots took care of loading, inspection, directing people where to sit, and flying, and they seemed to enjoy it. They seemed to love flying and got a kick out of my enjoyment. And they seemed to get along fine together in Kahului (Maui). They did a top notch job, I thought. The flights were $34 each way, approximately, but since then the prices went up to about $50.

    Another thing I liked was that there was no silly airport security stuff going on. Didn’t have to get frisked or take of my shoes or empty my pockets or be metal detected.

    I’m uploading my flight videos to YouTube. One is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MT1ij15MVsQ and the other one is uploading now. The second one has more of the controls in the video, as I was sitting directly in back and to the side of the pilot.

  11. Pingback: Pacific Wings Earns the Cranky Jackass Award For a Spiteful Website - >> The Cranky Flier

Join the Conversation

*