Employees: Pacific Wings shutting down after turbulent past

Pacific Wings
Pacific Wings

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An interisland carrier is getting ready to clip its wings. Pacific Wings Airlines is shutting down in mid-June, according to employees.

The lone employee at the Pacific Wings counter at Honolulu International Airport declined to comment on camera, but said she and others have been told to inform customers that its final day of service in Hawaii would be in mid-June and customers with tickets flying after operations shut down are being contacted for refunds.

“No, I’m not surprised, no,” Molokai resident Midge Nakagawa said.

“Not really shocked,” Molokai resident Shonnelle Pawn-Kalilikane said. “Sad day for them and their families.”

Pacific Wings started its Hawaii service in 1998 and currently flies its nine-seat Cessna Grand Caravan 208B turboprops to Hoolehua, Hana, Kamuela, Kahului, Honolulu, and Kona.

“Mokulele seems to be having some success with that particular aircraft, so I think a lot has to do with your approach to the business,” aviation analyst Peter Forman said.

Pacific Wings has experienced its share of turbulence.

The carrier was once the main flight lifeline between Kalauapapa and Honolulu, but high fares — as much as $500 round trips — caused an uproar.

“The locals couldn’t afford it, so they ended up just walking down or not going at all,” Pawn-Kalilikane said.

Eventually Pacific Wings lost a bid for a federal contract for the Kalaupapa flights and that impacted its bottom line.

But its problems went much deeper. In November 2005, an airport security guard was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill a Pacific Wings employee.

Then in July 2009, Pacific Wings grounded its Hawaii flights following the alleged assault of a female employee by airport police at Kahului airport. The state said the carrier was trying to divert attention from illegal fuel storage and for not reporting a fuel spill.

“I think they struggled and I think partly is, it started management,” Nakagawa said.

Forman says while competition is always good, he doesn’t believe the departure of Pacific Wings will have a major impact.

“They were more of a niche player finding certain markets that worked for them, so I don’t think we’re going to see any big changes,” Forman said.

Pacific Wings could not be reached for comment.

KHON2 will have more information on this story as it becomes available.

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