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'Ohana by Hawaiian's ATR-42 (Photo: Hawaiian Airlines)

‘Ohana by Hawaiian’s ATR-42 (Photo: Hawaiian Airlines)

Hawaiian Airlines Terminates Ohana Regional Subsidiary

Amid Hawaiian Airlines’ signs of promise with its newly launched mainland United States services, the airline plans to terminate a less promising portion of its regional intra-island offering. After several years of operations, Hawaiian Airlines’ regional subsidiary, ‘Ohana, will shutter its operations permanently, after temporarily suspending passenger services in January 2021. 

Initially, low inter-island travel demand stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated quarantine measures for traveling between the islands, affecting crew members and passengers, caused the temporary suspension of the airline’s routes. The Honolulu-based carrier conducted an in-depth evaluation of the ‘Ohana operation and its long-term viability, concluding that significant costs incurred and numerous obstacles associated with restarting the airline made the operation unviable. 

According to the Star-Advertiser, Jon Snook, Chief Operating Officer at Hawaiian Airlines, expressed that the pandemic was the “final nail in the coffin” for the carrier, amid struggling to balance load factors and yields since the airline’s inception. 

“This has been a business that has been a financial strain for us for a long time. It’s never been consistently profitable. It’s probably an outcome that would have occurred anyway. The current circumstances around the pandemic precipitated an earlier analysis of the long-term plan for this service,” Snook said.

Meanwhile, Peter Ingram, president and CEO at Hawaiian Airlines struck a different tone. “This is a heartbreaking decision, particularly for those of us who were involved in launching the business in 2014. We took a hard look at the service and could not identify a way to restart and sustainably operate.”

He adds, “We thank the communities of Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i for their support of ‘Ohana by Hawaiian. We will continue to explore opportunities to return to and to reconnect the islands as Hawai‘i’s carrier.”

‘Ohana by Hawaiian was operated by Idaho-based carrier Empire Airways, which dedicated 97 employees to the operation. The closure of the operation impacts 82 flight attendants, maintenance personnel and pilots based in Hawaii and 15 others based in Idaho. However, ground handling services operated by Contractor Worldwide Flight Services will see 25 employees reshuffled back into Hawaiian Airlines operation.

Prior to the airline’s suspension of services, ‘Ohana operated eight aircraft, including four ATR-42 passenger aircraft and four ATR-72 cargo aircraft. Currently, the Honolulu-based carrier’s ATR 42 passenger fleet and ATR-72 cargo fleet are in the process of storage and their eventual sale in the continental United States.

Additionally, before the pandemic, the airline connected six cities with Hawaiian Airlines’ main hubs in Honolulu and Kahului. ‘Ohana provided air service to the islands of Lanai and Molokai and the city of Kapalua, communities that aren’t in the current Hawaiian Airlines network. Molekule Airlines has replaced them on the services, with plans to upgrade its services from a Cessna Caravan to a 19-seater Beechcraft 1900 two times a day on most days of the week. However, it represents a steep drop in capacity from a previous 48-seater ATR running services up to four times a day like on services to Molokai.

Furthermore, ‘Ohana’s operated dedicated cargo flights between Hilo, Honolulu, Lihue, Kahului and Kona using ATR-72 aircraft, known as the Neighbor Island Service, complementing existing passenger narrowbody and widebody services between the islands.

The regional carrier was announced in 2013 to supplement inter-island service for smaller destinations in Hawaii, replacing another regional inter-island carrier, Island Air. On March 11, 2014, its inaugural flight from Honolulu to Molokai commenced, marking the beginning of a turboprop-based regional operation. Later that year, the airline ventured into its first services from Kahului and additional flights from Honolulu. 

Ultimately, amid its initial growth and venture into cargo operations, the regional carrier never reached profitability, with the COVID-19 pandemic being the final straw for ‘Ohana. 

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