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No cargo hauling crisis yet, officials say

The recent shutdown of the state’s largest interisland air cargo carrier has underscored the critical importance of having alternative means to transport goods, officials said yesterday.

Local businesses have likely been more affected on the inbound than the outbound, but store owners have managed to keep most shelves stocked.

The cargo crunch resulting from Aloha Airlines’ decision to cease its operations on Monday has returned Hawaii Superferry to the limelight, prompted consideration of an emergency declaration and put pressure on farmers to find other ways to ship their produce.

But relief may be in sight.

Aloha Chief Executive Officer David Banmiller said yesterday that discussions are under way to turn over the company’s cargo service to a new owner, according to media reports.

The unit had carried 85 percent of interisland air cargo before it shut down as part of switching its bankruptcy filing from reorganization to liquidation.

“There’s going to be near-term problems … there’s no doubt,” said Charles “Bill” Spitz, the county Office of Economic Development agricultural support programmer. “We will have to come to some way of handling cargo — whether it’s Hawaii Superferry or another airline.”

The state farm bureau supports the controversial interisland catamaran, which has received calls from food industry officials to resume its service from Honolulu to Nawiliwili Harbor.

“Farmers will be able to drive on and off to deliver their products for the day,” Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation executive director Alan Takemoto said. “They will be able to sustain the quality and consistency of the product during transportation. Refrigeration will be kept constant versus opening and closing of refer containers. So overall handling will be consistent and shelf life will be longer.”

But others — such as Diane Hughes, a manager at Cost-U-Less in Kapa‘a — say Hawai‘i Superferry’s service is unreliable.

She pointed at the weeks-long shutdowns due to ocean conditions and technical problems this winter.

“Hopefully, they’ll get somebody else in here that will be able to handle the load that Aloha carried,” Hughes said.

Hawaii Superferry officials did not return a request for comment by press time.

Much of the freight for the Kaua‘i Cost-U-Less comes through containers with Horizon Lines, she said.

The empty shelves yesterday at the retail warehouse were for bread and cigarettes, she said, which Aloha had traditionally transported to the island. Some local vendors have found alternative means with UPS and FedEx.

But aside from imports, Spitz said seeds and poi top the list of Kaua‘i’s exported goods that have been affected by the Aloha shutdown.

He said the island produces about two-thirds of the state’s poi, a refrigerated product that must move quickly.

“Speed is of the essence to them,” Spitz said, referring to local producer Hanalei Poi.

The strain could be tighter because a high-demand period for poi is on the horizon with upcoming high school graduations, he added.

Spitz said the Office of Economic Development has not had many calls related to the Aloha cargo services shutdown.

Most people seem to be solving their own problems, he said.

Kaua‘i Farm Bureau board member Roy Oyama said that farmers will look to move their goods with whatever is most efficient and affordable.

Whether it is other airlines, barges or the Superferry, the long-time Kalaheo farmer said having a choice is key.

Oyama remained optimistic for another company taking over Aloha’s cargo service unit.

“We’re not going to be hung out to dry,” he said.

Gov. Linda Lingle rejected U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s call for her to consider requesting an emergency or disaster declaration, which could allow the Hawai‘i National Guard to help transport goods between islands.

“We are particularly focused on ensuring that critical supplies relating to health and safety continue to be transported uninterrupted,” Lingle said in a press release. “At this time, there is no indication that any critical supplies are not being shipped and delivered in a timely manner.”

The governor said she appreciated the Hawai‘i Democratic congressman’s concern, but called his alerting several federal agencies of the cargo situation an “overreaction.”

The Lingle administration has coordinated with carriers such as Hawaiian Airlines, Pacific Air Cargo, Young Brothers and others to facilitate the addition of flights and service, bringing in new aircraft and linking businesses with appropriate cargo carriers that have sufficient capacity to meet shipping needs, the news release states.

“As we saw when Aloha and ATA ended passenger service, other carriers are stepping forward to increase their cargo capacity,” she said. “I am confident that in the near to medium-term, the market will stabilize and correct itself, and both carriers and shippers will make the necessary adjustments to ensure cargo capacity meets the demand for service.”


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