The enthusiasm for giving air tours was palpable at Kona International Airport’s commuter terminal Friday morning, when Big Island Air blessed its newest airplane.
“I’m living my dream right now,” owner Steve Lupkey said, after the ceremony for the Cessna Grand Caravan EX. “We love what we do.”
What Big Island Air does is air tours to see waterfalls in Kohala, volcanoes around the island and whales each winter. With a fleet of two airplanes, both Cessna Caravans modified to give every passenger a window seat, and 11 employees, Lupkey said the company is getting positive reviews on travel websites and from customers completing the tours.
The newest plane is bedecked with an airbrushed-style mural, featuring a mauka-to-makai scene on one side with Madame Pele and flowing lava transitioning to reef fish and sunset skies, and whales, flowers and islands on the other. Inside, state-of-the-art equipment glows at passengers from the cockpit.
Kahu Danny Akaka Jr. performed a traditional Hawaiian purification blessing on the plane Friday, explaining to about two dozen people the significance of the maile draped across the door and how ancient Hawaiians believed everything, including their canoes, had a “life force, mana, feelings and intelligence. The ceremony is to give that sense of life to the aircraft.”
Following the ceremony, Lupkey talked about his company, explaining how Big Island Air’s pilots, including himself, fill multiple roles, keeping the plane on track, as well as playing tour guide and providing entertainment.
“They all have extensive knowledge of the geology and history of the island,” Lupkey said. “It’s our goal to reflect upon the passengers the joy and adventure we feel every time we go out there and fly.”
Anthony Fink, a pilot and the company’s director of operations, said the plane is the most advanced tour aircraft in the country, with sophisticated avionics, weather radar, terrain warning and an alert if other aircraft are approaching. Fink said he jokes with passengers that he could cover the plane’s windows with newspapers and still bring them home safely.
The craft is powered by a turboprop engine — a jet engine driven by propellers — that is powerful, reliable and relatively quiet, Fink said.
“It’s a joy to fly,” Fink said. “It’s actually hard to call it work.”
Lupkey said the plane arrived about 10 days ago, and had just completed the additional Federal Aviation Administration checks all new aircraft are subjected to. He was planning to take some guests and friends in the air Friday, and begin commercial use today.
“We call this a new beginning for our company,” Lupkey said. “It’s very meaningful. We want to provide a safe but first-class service to our customers.”
The company, in business since 1985 and under Lupkey’s ownership since February 2013, also offers charter services. Marketing materials offer possibilities such as flying customers to a golf outing on Lanai, hunting on Molokai or a business meeting in Honolulu.
Its tours depart from the commuter terminal at the south end of the airport.
Rates for tours range from about $139 to $449. More information is available at bigislandair.com.