Up and away

LIHUE — For Brian Worth, senior director of airports for Hawaiian Airlines, working at an airport is a daily adventure.

“Whenever you have a large number of people converging at one place, that presents a challenge,” he said. “It’s about managing the unexpected and adapting to the day.”

An average of 8,100 passengers arrive and depart the Lihue Airport on a daily basis. Additionally, there are 300 daily takeoffs and landings.

“The Lihue Airport mission is to provide a convenient, safe, secure, properly maintained and professionally managed airport facility that meets the expectations of our residents and visitors,” said Timothy Sakahara, spokesman for the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation.

“It is managed by a team of professionally trained and dedicated employees serving Hawaii’s residents and visitors. Our team extends to our airline partners, concessionaires, tenants and employees who embrace our vision and share their aloha with the thousands of people who pass through our airport each day.”

The airport takes up 943 acres and about 1.5 miles. Airfield facilities include two runways, eight gates, navigational aids, helipads and a control tower, all of which service the eight commercial airlines that fly in: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, United Airlines, U.S. Airways and WestJet.

About 100 people are employed at the airport, through the HDOT Airports Division. Positions include clerical, custodial, maintenance, firefighting, visitor information and airport operations.

Island Air, which announced its return to Kauai in January, recently hired 27 new employees. Of that number, 19 are from Kauai, said Russel Pang, spokesman for Island Air.

New employees were hired through job fairs and other outreach programs to fill positions like customer service agents, ramp agents and station manager.

“In anticipation of our relaunch of service to Kauai, the returning employees and the new hires have been undergoing extensive training and working toward our shared goal of providing customers with the best interisland travel experience,” said Les Murashige, Island Air’s president and CEO.

For Worth, who got his start in the airline industry as a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines in 1986, every airport position is invaluable.

The airline employees 5,548 people, from pilots and flight attendants to customer service agents.

“Crews who check people in are just as important as the people who clean the plane,” Worth said.

As director of airports, Worth now oversees Hawaiian Airline managers at the airports on all the major Hawaiian Islands, Tahiti and American Samoa.

Having the ability to adapt an ever-changing day is just part of the job, he said.

“It makes the airline industry exciting because you have to be able to respond to dynamic industry changes,” he said.

One of those changes is the uncertainty of when it will get busy throughout the day.

“We’re trained to handle a certain number of volume, but it’s hard to know when people will show up,” he said. “But our team does a good job to expedite the process.”

The middle of the day tends to be the busiest time to fly, Worth added.

But over the last decade, upgrades in technology, like checking in online and self-service kiosks, have helped stagger the number of people arriving to the airport.

“It’s changed the dynamics of the airport, because it’s made operations a little more efficient,” Worth said. “If people show up all at once, it can create a cog in the wheel of getting people to TSA.”

During especially busy times, like summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hawaiian Airlines has started a program where employees meet people as they come to airports, and direct them to where they need to go, said Alex Da Silva, airline spokesman.

The program, which rolled out last Thanksgiving, was a success, he said.

“It’s evolved into operations,” he said. “We might doing something like it during the summer or next Thanksgiving.”

A popular destination from Hawaii is Las Vegas, Da Silva said.

“Vegas is considered the ninth island for Hawaii residents,” he said. “We have double daily flights from Honolulu to Las Vegas that seat 294 people.”

With summer right around the corner, the airline is prepping for a busy season.

“Summer is a busy season for us,” Worth said. “It starts getting busy around Memorial Day, so we have about a month to breathe.”

To prepare for a busier than normal schedule, Hawaiian Airlines plans to hire more employees, Worth said.

“We want to make sure as have as many resources available to our guests,” he said.

The airline will have 140 employees working at the airports this summer, Worth said.

Because of year-round school, the entire summer season is busy, Worth added.

“There used to be peaks, but year-round school flattened them out,” he said.

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