Small & Swift
Mokulele’s mini-airport provides faster service.
The airfield at Kalaeloa Airport is large, but mostly empty. In one corner sits a single control tower and a small passenger check-in area.
Unlike the larger jets that frequent flyers may be more accustomed to, the only commercial planes on the tarmac are turbine-powered Cessna Grand Caravans.
The scene is a stark contrast from its Honolulu counterpart but with the space, Mokulele Airlines has transformed the inter-island traveling experience for residents, especially those living in West O‘ahu.
On July 1, exactly 15 years after the Navy turned over the airfield to the Hawai‘i State Department of Transportation, the company began services from Kalaeloa Airfield (formerly Barber’s Point Naval Air Base John Rogers Field). They are the first commercial airlines to offer services out of the airport with routes operating from Kalaeloa to Moloka‘i, Kapalua and Kahului.
Mokulele Airlines’ expansion began about a year and a half ago. As a former member of the Air Force, CEO Ron Hansen had always been aware of the airfield’s existence.
“We used to do training flights over at Barber’s Point and land there, so I’ve known that airport was there longer than most people have been alive,” he says with a laugh.
After the base closed, Hansen continued to keep tabs on it, eventually beginning the process to bring his airline to West O‘ahu.
The airfield is still being used by the military, as well as the Coast Guard and flight schools, which meant its basic infrastructure was in place. To become operational, Mokulele only had to make cosmetic changes and to work with the FAA, DOT and surrounding community.
“Prior to us operating, we met with the community to address any concerns they may (have) had,” says Darryl Grace, general manager and director of operations.
“Once we had the community’s support, we worked with the state to acquire space at Kalaeloa Airport for a passenger check-in and aircraft parking.”
Though diminutive in size, they use this to their advantage to help eliminate the need for the security checkpoints that the average traveler dreads.
Mokulele’s Cessna Grand Caravans seat only nine passengers and as a result, those flying out of Kalaeloa Airport receive the added luxury of not having to arrive extremely early for TSA inspections, which are not required due to the passenger seating limit; drastically cutting down travel time.
“We can get somebody to Moloka‘i or Maui faster than they can go on a jet because of the fact that you don’t have to arrive an hour early,” says Hansen.
As an added bonus they have free parking at the airport, saving commuters the $16 a day they would pay at Honolulu International.
Ultimately, its location in Kapolei’s burgeoning community of development provides a convenient service to residents in the area. And so far, the response has been excellent.
“The community was great to work with throughout the process and continues to be great in supporting our flights,” says Grace.
“It feels great anytime you can have a positive effect on someone’s life or help to improve a community directly or indirectly, it always feels good.”
While the backing of the community has been strong, the state has been dragging their feet on signage indicating the airport’s location according to Hanson. For many passengers finding their way to the terminal has been difficult because more than 15 years after acquiring the land, the state is yet to post even one sign denoting which exit to take off of H1 or how to find the airport down Fort Barrette Road.
Despite the dearth of support from the local government, Hanson is pleased with the start they have had.
“We have very motivated, all-local employees—they’re all from Hawai‘i,” adds Hansen. “So we’re just pleased with the response and support we have from local businesses and residents.”
The company, which began offering flights in 1994, provides more than 120 flights daily between O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Maui and Hawai‘i Island all on the newest commercial aircraft available in the state.
“Mokulele has the newest fleet of aircraft of any airline operation in Hawai‘i and probably the U.S.,” says Hansen. “We have all new aircraft—they have all been purchased within the past 12 months.”
Twenty years into their service in Hawai‘i, Mokulele Airlines is looking forward to its current and future growth.
“We just need the community to support us, and we’ll continue to have the flights,” says Hansen.
For tickets and more information about Mokulele Airlines, visit mokuleleairlines.com.