The history of interisland aviation in Hawaii is littered with the names of failed ventures in connecting this state through commercial passenger service. We can now add the name of Island Air to the graveyard that Mahalo, go!, Discovery, Aloha, Mid Pacific, FlyHawaii and Pacific Wings already occupy.

So what’s next? Who will venture into the realm of interisland air service? What is so difficult in running a reliable air service in these islands? Hawaiian Airlines has managed to do it for quite some time.

We view competition as a good thing. For consumers it helps to keep prices at affordable levels. Having a sole source for interisland air travel would be considered a bad thing by many who would see us as a captive audience.

Island Air almost had it right.

Island Air and Hawaiian airlines aircraft sit near the Honolulu Interisland Terminal. Airport. 22 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Island Air and Hawaiian Airlines aircraft sit near the Honolulu Interisland Terminal.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

What may have caused its demise were three significant events: 1) a three-time change in ownership inside of five years; 2) transitioning from one type of aircraft to another and then back again; and 3) bringing in off-island talent to run it.

It’s always somebody else’s fault as to why something went wrong. To quote a longtime friend, “Success usually begins when you stop looking for external reasons for failure.”

Island Air ceased operations after becoming what was touted as the second largest interisland carrier. Curiously, it captured only about 6 percent of the market in a time over the last few years when tourism has increased. Island Air failed to capture its relative share. What went wrong?

Mistakes Were Made

To blame one’s creditors for this catastrophe is one of the first mistakes. Keeping the financiers and lessors happy should have been priority number one. Without airplanes, you can’t be an airline.

Another problem Island Air faced was one of consumer confidence.Its on-time record was appalling. Delays and cancellations left the flying public wondering if they were going to get to their destination on time.

There was also the matter of perception. The public was convinced many years ago that propeller-driven aircraft were a thing of the past and jets were the only way to go.

Island Air’s De Havilland (Bombardier) Dash 8’s were probably the optimum aircraft for this market. Turboprops are more efficient than their pure jet-powered contemporaries. That would favor the public as lower operating costs would or should translate into lower air fares.

Another problem Island Air faced was one of consumer confidence. Its on-time record was appalling.

The seeds for much of this can be blamed on previous owners and management. Carrier CEO and President David Uchiyama and his staff are not entirely to blame.

However, it was evident that the airline had some serious issues to contend with that had its roots in poor management. The Dash 8 aircraft that Island Air used for so many years were getting old. They needed to be either replaced or have service life upgrades.

Management in 2012 chose to ignore those people within the organization who embraced the idea of a service life extension through the manufacturer’s upgrade program. Management chose to buy even older aircraft, ATR-42’s, that had once been decertified by the FAA, instead of keeping what they had. With the selection of the ATR 42’s Island Air had to abandon some of its routes due to operational limitations of the aircraft.

This was the beginning of a roller-coaster ride with transitioning to ATR. Pilots and maintenance personnel needed to be retrained. The long-stored ATR’s needed to be upgraded as well. Spares needed to be procured along with the cost of having to recertify operations with the reworked aircraft while not  being able to make money with them.

The ATR’s eventually proved their lack of worth. But transitioning from Bombardier aircraft to ATR back to Bombardier did not help.

What is needed in Hawaii is a reliable airline run by locals and by enthusiasts. It needs to have a focus on serving the people of Hawaii and not just on profit.

Of course, profit is important, but it should not be the primary goal of the airline. Once that airline establishes a reputation for reliability and affordability, people will flock (pardon the pun) to fly on it.

But credibility is a hard thing to come by. One has to earn it.

Editor’s note: The author was manager for quality assurance at Island Air from 2009 to 2012.

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About the Author

  • Victor Craft
    Victor Craft is a retired aerospace worker having functioned as an FAA certificated Airframe and Powerplants Technician, Logistician and Quality Assurance director working on several major weapons systems. Vic also served tours of duty with the armed forces in Vietnam, Kenya and the United Kingdom.