Fare subsidies for Molokai flights

Thursday, April 28, 2011, 19:43 by Aviation Correspondent

The natives of Kalaupapa on Molokai are finally breathing a sigh of relief after the government promised affordable airfares for them. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will subsidize air service to and from Kalauapa, and will select an air carrier to service the unique community following a competitive bid process.

As of now the state covers the airfares of patients traveling to Oahu for medical aid. But the bad news is that roundtrip fares to Oahu have risen to $500 from $60, which means passengers traveling other than for medical treatments will have to shell out $500.

Local residents still are of the opinion that the to and fro fares are too high.
The state currently covers the medical costs of Kalaupapa residents having leprosy but the air fares have to paid by themselves.

On Thursday, Hawaii’s congressional delegation announced plans to provide Kalaupapa with an Essential Air Service carrier with the help from U.S. Transportation Department. The move is expected to be completed by this fall. An EAS would allow a carrier to receive government subsidized airfares for flights to and from Molokai. Although the federal government cannot set the fares, they can reduce it by 60% or more and cover 90% of the ticket price.

Officials and administrators feel that once the bid turns out, it would provide economical fares to patients flying in and out of Molokai. Most residents are awaiting the good news and they’ll be happy for anything lower than the current fares.

Again the problem faced by the locals is that, under the current federal law, an airline cannot enter a market that is already being served by a carrier utilizing the route subsidy.

Currently Pacific Wings is the only carrier operating to Kalaupapa. Makani Kai Air is a charter service operating to Kalaupapa, and is looking for daily services with its couple of planes and a helicopter.

Pacific Wings, not surprisingly feels that the move is offensive and said that for the plan to go ahead the terms would have to be disobeyed. Whoever takes up the route will have to serve Kalaupapa twice every six days. But as of now Pacific Wings will have to continue serving and may want to submit a bid. DOT hopes to have a carrier in place by the summer.

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