Saturday | May 27, 2017
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Hawaiian looks to bring back Kona-to-Japan flight

The state’s oldest and biggest airline is ready to add a second daily nonstop flight to Japan.

If the U.S. Department of Transportation approves the route application, Hawaiian Airlines will be the only air carrier offering flights between Kona and Tokyo International Airport, commonly known as Haneda airport.

Proposals from other carriers, as well as comments, are due next month, and there’s no deadline for the DOT to make its decision, said Keoni Wagner, Hawaiian’s vice president of public affairs.

Wagner said it’s no secret Hawaiian wanted to expand and establish another flight. The company had requested two daily routes from Hawaii to Haneda in its original application, he added.

Kona was selected because of “the significant market opportunities,” and such nonstop service hasn’t been offered for nearly two years, Wagner said.

“Another reason why we wanted to try to restore this service was because we knew how important it is to the local economy,” he added.

In October 2010, Japan Airlines suspended its direct flight between Kona and Narita Airport, outside of Tokyo, in order to restructure the company through bankruptcy. The flight, one of 15 JAL international routes affected, had started in June 1996 and brought more than 70,000 visitors annually into Kona International Airport, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority.

About month later after JAL’s flights ceased, Hawaiian reached a milestone in its expansion into Asia markets, launching daily, nonstop service between Honolulu and Haneda. Hawaiian now offers service to Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka. It also plans to offer three flights a week from Honolulu to Sapporo by the end of October, Wagner said.

If approved, Hawaiian’s daily, nonstop Kona-to-Haneda flight could begin as soon as March and would be on a 294-seat Airbus A330. The company currently has nine of these aircraft and plans to add five more next year, Wagner said.

Big Island Visitors Bureau Executive Director George Applegate called Hawaiian’s proposal “brilliant.” He said this viable service makes sense, fills a demand, as well as helps make Hawaii Island and other islands much more accessible. He also credited JAL’s former Narita-to-Kona route for reigniting a smoldering local economy nearly a decade ago and for making Hawaii Island the second-most visited island for Japanese tourists.