LIHUE — The sun rising above the horizon Tuesday was a new beginning, said Kahu Kelekona Bishaw of The Kamehameha Schools Chapel.
He watched the golden orb rise into a bank of clouds while waiting on the arrival of Island Air Flight 109 from Honolulu — the inaugural flight of the airline’s resumption of service to Kauai.
Earlier, Bishaw conducted the blessing of the Island Air facilities at the Lihue Airport and extended the ceremony to George Thronas and Brian Yoshimizu, the first two waiting passengers for Island Air Flight 110 leaving Lihue Airport for Honolulu.
“This is a big day for us,” said Mel Rapozo, Kauai County council chair. “We’ve been held hostage for a long time. As the council chair, we reached out and found out Kauai didn’t matter. We had a resolution but realized it was no help. When this (resumption of service to Kauai) came about, I was very happy.”
He ended up talking with Les Murashige, the president and CEO of Island Air.
“Thank you for taking the leap of faith,” Rapozo said. “Now, it’s up to the people to keep them here. We need to support them, or they’re going away.”
The arrival of Flight 109 commemorated the return of interisland air service to Kauai and celebrated with a gateside lei greeting of the 45 passengers aboard the flight with hula, music, and greetings from the Lihue Airport crew.
“This is very special because I was born and raised here,” Murashige said. “It was a very difficult decision to discontinue our service to Kauai. But we assembled an air team to work hard to come back.”
Island Air will commence service with six daily round-trip flights between Honolulu and Lihue with connections to Kahului, Maui using 64-seat ATR-72 aircraft. Murashige said Island Air intends to increase seat capacity by adding flights on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in the near future.
Additionally, Island Air recently hired more than 30 individuals, including 19 for the Lihue station.
“I know firsthand how important travel is to Hawaii residents,” Murashige said. “I want to welcome the whole new staff for Lihue who will work with Leina Alcos, our Lihue station manager. We have had nothing but support since our announcement of returning to Kauai. We might stumble along the way, but we’re going to try very hard to show you why your support is needed.”
Island Air announced that in February, it completed 99.9 percent of its 670 scheduled flights with one cancellation. Its flights arrived 87.6 percent on time (arriving within 14 minutes of its scheduled arrival time).
Flight 109 was scheduled to arrive at 7:02, and like the sun rising regularly, the plane idled to the special adapted jetway just a few ticks past 7 a.m.
“Island Air’s operational performance continues to make steady improvements,” Murashige said. “Our entire team remains focused and has made contributions to providing customers with the best interisland travel experience.”