LIHUE — Billy Zeffiro was 17, out of high school, when he landed a job as a baggage boy with Hawaiian Airlines.
While he enjoyed it, he knew it wasn’t something he wanted to do for too long — definitely not a career thing.
“I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life,” he thought.
It was not long afterward a cigarette butt set him on a new flight path.
One day at work, he was standing and watching as a plane taxied toward him. The pilot, he could see, was smoking a cigarette “back in the days when you could smoke.”
Then, it happened.
“He opened the window and he threw his cigarette out and it landed right in front of me,” Zeffiro said.
Rather than being annoyed, he was impressed.
“That would be a cool job to have,” he said.
So Zeffiro, who grew up near the Lihue Airport, talked to the pilot.
“Do you have to be in the military for that job?”
No, he was told.
The pilot mentioned a flight school on Oahu and since Zeffiro worked for Hawaiian, he could fly interisland for free. So he began flying regularly to Honolulu, taking flight lessons, then returning in the afternoon.
That was his routine for two years, when he was hired for his first job as a pilot — which is what he’s been doing since.
Today, Zeffiro has more than 30 years experience flying in Hawaii, including commercial pilot stints with Hawaiian and Delta, and owned Air Ventures for a time before selling it.
The Lihue man is still soaring.
He recently opened Ali‘i Kauai Air Tours &Charters that operates out of the Lihue Airport. He and Ingrid Wehner, sales and marketing manager, recently sat down with TGI. The charter service started in March after earning its certification from the FAA.
The company’s Vulcanair, Italian-made, twin-engine plane, seats up to five passengers, plus luggage. It can go on interisland trips and offers local air tours, including over Niihau. With its high wings, the plane offers good visibility.
They offer free parking, no waiting in long security lines and first-class customer service. Their plane is available 24 hours, as they cater to the client.
“Whatever they want,” Wehner said. “There’s endless amounts of stuff we can do. Whatever you want, we can get you there.”
It’s convenient, and at $675 for a roundtrip flight to Oahu, affordable, Zeffiro says. Within 15 minutes of your arrival, he’ll have you airborne, and you’ll be in Honolulu in 45 minutes.
So if you’re thinking of attending a concert, going shopping, or participating in a neighbor island event, Ali‘i Air can get you there. They can help on short notice.
One caller said he needed to get his dog to an emergency veterinarian, 24-hour service, on Oahu. Ali‘i Air responded and the dog recovered. A few days later, they brought the dog and its owner back for a checkup.
Ali‘i flew a couple to Oahu for a funeral, waited five hours, and flew them back.
It’s going well as they build from the ground up.
“Starting a new company is always a lot of work,” said Zeffiro, who attended Kamehameha Schools.
Right now, they have one plane and hope to add another as business takes off. Zeffiro employs two pilots and a mechanic.
Zeffiro said he’s not worried about the imminent arrival of Southwest Airlines to Kauai.
“We’re totally different,” he said. “We’re not trying to compete with Hawaiian Air or Southwest.”
Ali‘i can provide personalized service larger airlines can’t match, Zeffiro said. But if you want to fly with the big boys, well, he offers this:
“If you want a cattle-car kind of experience, that’s great,” he said.
Info: www.iflykauai.com and 633-2587