Mesa Air Group now taking aim at Hawaii’s airways less traveled

 - September 28, 2006, 8:46 AM

Mesa Air Group has now taken aim at a less visible target within the inter-island Hawaiian market, much to the dismay of incumbent turboprop stalwarts Island Air and Pacific Wings. By agreeing to enter a new code-share deal last month with Kona-based Mokulele Airlines, Mesa’s go! subsidiary will gain access to destinations not able to accommodate its Bombardier CRJs, and complement existing RJ offerings from Honolulu to Lihue, Kahului, Kona and Hilo.

Mokulele recently won authority from the state Department of Transportation to provide scheduled service. It plans to fly a new fleet of Cessna Grand Caravan 208Bs in the go!Express livery starting in December.

Early this year, as Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines drew the battle lines in preparation for Mesa’s June 9 incursion into the islands’ main markets, Honolulu-based Island Air and Kahului-based Pacific Wings thought they could assume the role of spectators. “I don’t want to put us in the limelight because we’ve really been under the radar scope and I’d like to keep it that way,” Island Air CEO Rob Mauracher told AIN in April. “We’re going to stay out of the way and let the big guys go at it because we don’t have pockets deep enough to be in this war.”

Mauracher even expressed interest in forming a code-share partnership with Mesa. “We’re in a different business from Mesa, Hawaiian and Aloha,” he said. “They operate in the Honolulu-Maui, what we call the main common markets. We operate around those; we fly off-peak times; we offer point-to-point services so people can go direct without flying through the major centers.”

Unfortunately for Mauracher, however, Mesa chairman and CEO Jonathan Ornstein would have no part of a code-share, and now it seems both Island Air and Pacific Wings will face some of the same fare pressure Aloha and Hawaiian have had to endure since Mesa showed up.

Mokulele, which operates Big Island tours and charter services between the islands, plans to replace its five Piper Chieftains with up to nine of the nine-passenger Cessna turboprops. With Mokulele’s Grand Caravans, go! will eventually project a presence in places Island Air and Pacific Wings have enjoyed a virtual duopoly for years.

“I am excited by the great opportunities this partnership will bring to the smaller communities of Hawaii,” said Mokulele Airlines CEO Bill Boyer. “As a Hawaii company, we are delighted with the opportunity to further develop our passenger business. Our expansion will create many new jobs in the local communities and make travel more convenient and less expensive for kamaaina [locals] and visitors. None of this would have been possible without our new partnership with go!”

The announcement came the day before a bankruptcy court began to hear arguments related to Hawaiian Airlines’ request to bar go! from selling tickets for inter-island travel for one year. The motion for a preliminary injunction, filed in late June, cites Mesa’s alleged misuse of confidential information disclosed during Hawaiian’s 2004 bankruptcy.

The court has set an April trial date for a lawsuit filed by Hawaiian that seeks monetary damages from Mesa. The judge in the case has denied a motion by Mesa to dismiss a count that would require it to hand over all confidential information in its possession about Hawaiian.