LIHUE — Island Air will depart Kauai for the final time Sunday evening, leaving Hawaiian Airlines as the only inter-island carrier providing service to the island.
Island Air made the decision to discontinue service to Kauai due to a record financial loss of $21 million last year and stiff competition that made flying the route difficult to continue as the company struggles to restructure.
Hawaiian Department of Transportation Spokesman Tim Sakahara said he did not anticipate the loss of gate fees to significantly impact Lihue Airport’s finances or operations, because multiple airlines have already expressed interest in filling the opening created by Island Air’s decision to leave.
Sakahara was not able to provide details or say whether those other airlines would provide trans-Pacific or inter-island flights since a deal has not been finalized. There is no timetable for when another carrier could come in.
In a written statement provided by Island Air, the airline said it was proud to have served Kauai but it needed to pursue a new course of action that includes ending service to Lihue Airport. The move means the loss of about 20 Island Air jobs.
“Downsizing our airline was a difficult but necessary choice as we continue our work to fix our airline, so that we can one day grow it, achieve sustainable profitability and remain Hawaii’s needed second carrier. We want to thank the people of Kauai and our Kauai employees for their support over the years and their understanding as we chart a new course for Island Air.”
The airline had been running a special 20-percent discount on ticket prices in May to say aloha and mahalo to the island’s customers.
Year-to-date, Kauai has led the four main Hawaiian Islands in terms of visitor growth compared to the same time last year. According to the most recent figures from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 92,452 visitors arrived on the island in April.
Of those, 10,453 were day trippers visiting from other islands, which coincidentally is nearly the same amount of seat capacity that will be lost.
Island Air operates an average of six round-trip daily flights to Lihue Airport. At six flights per day with 64 seats per flight, that means the airport will lose about 11,500 seats of capacity per month.
Casey Riemer, general manager of Jack Harter Helicopters, said he is concerned the reduced number of available seats will have a negative effect on tourism and the economy, as well as residents, if the lack of competition results in higher ticket prices in the future.
“We’re always concerned when the capacity goes down, but we’re hopeful that Hawaiian will bump their capacity up,” Riemer said.
Hawaiian Airlines operates an average of 17 round-trip flights daily servicing Kauai. Spokeswoman Tara Shimooka said the airline does not plan to add additional flights in response to Island Air’s decision to discontinue service to the island.
However, Hawaiian Airlines normally adds two additional round-trip flights per day during the summer months to handle increased seasonal demand.
Island Air was originally founded as Princeville Airways in 1980. It has been operating out of Lihue Airport since 2004. In 2013, the company was purchased by Oracle Founder Larry Ellison.
Ryan Kazmirzack, government reporter, can be reached at 245-0428.