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County, feds reach agreement to continue subsidized service at Waimea airport

Continuation of commercial air service from Waimea-Kohala Airport is on solid footing for the next two years based on an agreement Hawaii County plans to sign with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

It’s not yet known which of two competing airlines will get the subsidized service, but, once again, there will be just one destination: Kahului, Maui. The agreement will include 12 nonstop round trips per week, using nine-seat Cessna Caravan aircraft.

The county and DOT recently finalized cost share negotiations, a spokesman said, and will soon issue a selection order specifying the airline.

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards expects the announcement to be made in the next few weeks.

“It is imminent,” Richards said Monday.

The two-year agreement should cost the county about $20,000 annually, said Finance Director Deanna Sako.

The County Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on Resolution 119, authorizing Mayor Harry Kim to enter into the agreement with the federal agency.

Mokulele Flight Service, doing business as Mokulele Airlines, and Schuman Aviation Co., doing business as Makani Kai Air, submitted proposals, with Makani Kai Air proposing $200,000 a year compared to Mokulele’s higher proposal of $389,783.

Mokulele Airlines, which has held the subsidized contract since 2013, was since sold to Southern Airways. Richards doesn’t think the sale will effect the outcome, being that Mokulele is continuing normal operations.

The subsidy is the difference between the company’s revenue and expenses incurred by running the service.

That difference is made up by the federal government’s Essential Air Service program, designed to guarantee air service to small communities throughout the country, along with Hawaii County and community members. Local sources must account for at least 5 percent of the subsidy.

Richards said money is in the county budget to come up with the local share, but he’s also working with U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s office to revert the program back to its former status, where the local match wasn’t necessary.

“If we were to lose this service, it would literally take an act of Congress to bring it back,” Richards said. “That’s why it’s so very important to keep it going.”

The subsidy is intended to help small communities whose closest airport is 40 miles away from the nearest hub airport. The Waimea airport is 39 miles from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport.

A voicemail left at the county Department of Research and Development, which is handling the agreement, was not responded to by press time Monday.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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