Mokulele Airlines (MHO, Kona) - through its parent company Southern Airways Express (9X, Memphis Int'l) - has announced it will introduce a 19-seat Beech 1900D for weekday return flights from Honolulu to the Hawaiian islands of Moloka'i and Lanai starting Autumn 2021, pending approval from the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The pressurised twin-engine Beechcraft turboprop, the Hawaiian carrier's first beyond its current fleet of twenty-seven Cessna Aircraft Company single turboprops, will be operated under the Southern Airways Express brand, and will also be available for special charters, Mokulele Chief Marketing Officer Keith Sisson told The Molokai Dispatch.

As previously reported, Mokulele on January 13, 2021, took over the Essential Air Service (EAS) to the two islands from Ohana by Hawaiian. Mokulele had provided unsubsidised services to Lanai City, as well as Kalaupapa and Ho’olehua both on Moloka'i with Cessna (single turboprop) 208 EX Grand Caravans, but as part of its EAS application, had committed to increasing capacity using twin-engine aircraft to meet basic EAS requirements.

Subsequently, in a regulatory notice on April 28, 2021, the DOT announced that Mokulele had been selected over Boutique Air (4B, San Francisco, CA) to provide subsidised EAS to Kalaupapa for the next four years, ending April 30, 2025. The airline would provide Moloka'i island with 30 non-stop round-trips per week consisting of 12 weekly rotations to Honululu and 18 to Kalaupapa using nine-seater Cessna Caravans.

The carrier had filed a notice in October 2020 of its intention to terminate the unsubsidised EAS at Kalaupapa from January 31, 2021, as it could no longer afford to do so due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, it was ordered to continue the unsubsidised service until April 22, 2021, while the DOT made a decision on who to select for the subsidised EAS. The choice of Mokulele over Boutique Air was supported by the State of Hawaii.

Meanwhile, Sisson said demand to the islands continued to increase. While the islands’ residents were the primary users of the service at present, tourism was expected to return. “These larger planes will help us ensure that our primary customers, the people of Moloka'i and Lanai, are not disrupted by the return of tourists,” he said.

“This is a logical next step for our airline as we continue to rebound from the COVID pandemic and continue to show our commitment to the people of Hawaii,” commented Stan Little, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of Southern Airways Express and Mokulele.