PRINCEVILLE — A Piper Chieftain twin propeller, carrying nine passengers, makes its way over rainy Hanalei Bay and down onto the Princeville Airport runway.
The landing marks the first time in over 22 years Princeville will have constant direct flights to Honolulu. Makani Kai Air is offering two daily flights between Kauai and Honolulu, something that has owner Richard Schuman excited for the future.
“We’ll start off with two flights and go from there,” Schuman said after the inaugural landing on Kauai. “I think people will enjoy not having to drive to Lihue to fly.”
Schuman said that at one time there were an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 passengers who flew from Princeville to Honolulu annually.
Makani Kai Air plans to add flights from Oahu to the Big Island in June.
Schuman knows he won’t be able to compete with the big airlines like Hawaiian and Southwest, but his company is looking to implement a more personal touch.
“What I can compete with is the service,” Schuman said, pointing out that customers can even have their dogs fly with them, provided they pay the extra fair if the dog isn’t small enough to ride on the passenger’s lap.
It’s more flexible of service, Schuman said, pointing out that Hawaiian cannot offer the service of calling the airline if you are stuck in Honolulu traffic and having the pilot wait for you. It’s all part of the approach Schuman takes in providing for customers — something he has used since starting the company in 2009.
“It’s a beautiful flight,” pilot David Ochoco said of the inaugural flight in from Oahu. “I was born and raised here and to be able to offer this service is a great thing for the community.”
It took three years for Makani Kai Air to get the service going. They had to build a new terminal, which houses the helicopter fleet and an impressive waiting area for passengers.
“Because we don’t have TSA, I wanted to make the terminal as nice as possible,” Schuman said, standing in the Annex Terminal that was completed in January 2018.
The company has a fleet of eight fixed-wing aircraft and four helicopters that service Oahu. Tickets for the Princeville to Honolulu flight are $125 one-way, and $250 roundtrip, with the morning flight leaving Princeville at 8 a.m. and landing on Oahu around 8:45 a.m., weather permitting. The airline also offers flights to Molokai for $55 one-way from Oahu.
The flight from Princeville is also a sightseer’s dream as the aircraft flies lower than traditional commercial airlines, averaging 7,000 feet on the way to Honolulu, offering aerial views of Pearl Harbor and the leeward side of Oahu.
On the flight back from Kauai, passengers are treated with aerial views of the west coast of Kauai, edging out back to the ocean as you pass the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse and turn out over Kilauea Bay before touching down at the Princeville Airport.
Benjamin Gillikin, Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay president, said the new service will give people like his wife an opportunity to do some shopping in Honolulu and be back in time for dinner.
“Thankfully there is a limit of how much she can bring back,” Gillikin said with a laugh, adding that he and his wife will be heading out on the flight to try it out themselves later in the month.
On the flight back Wednesday morning from Honolulu, the two pilots, Mac Smith and Ochoco encountered an obstacle that will be present with the new Princeville service as limited visibility and inclement weather made an impact on the return landing.
The two pilots took the Piper Chieftain back out over the ocean until the weather lifted enough for them to make a landing at the Princeville Airport.
In case of inclement weather that does not allow for a landing, the contingency plan calls for the aircraft to land at the Lihue Airport, something that might happen out of necessity from time to time.
“Unfortunately, the weather will be a problem getting in and out of Princeville at times,” Smith said.