I have been lucky to get to Hawaii six times now. When I went there in 2007, the local airline market had been shaken up by the arrival of Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group who were trading as go! Their arrival resulted in a fare war, intense battling, legal action and very personal attacks.
go! launched into the Hawaii market in June 2006 with $19 inter-island flights. Many believe the fare war they started caused the collapse of the struggling 60 year old Aloha airlines in 2008. When I was there in 2007, I paid only a few dollars to travel between the Big Island, Ohau and Mahi with Island Air and Aloha.
go! was greeted by a wave of anger over its tactics in entering Hawaii. Hawaiian and Aloha felt that Mesa had misused confidential and proprietary information.
A group was established called H.E.R.O. (Hawaii’s airline Employees Repelling Ornstein). They set up a website: dontflygo (in opposition to the airline’s official site: iflygo). HERO protested at the state Capitol, wrote letters against the carrier and undertook other actions. Mesa air CEO Ornstein, a Jewish man, was sent a T-shirt that contained an insult to his faith, along with profanities and hate messages from employees of Aloha and Hawaiian. Mesa sued some HERO members as a result of their stunts.
Hawaiian took legal action to keep Go out. Mesa ended up paying $US52.5 million to Hawaiian in 2008 and $US2 million plus ten per cent of its shares to the former controlling shareholder of Aloha Airlines.
Now Mesa/go! has announced it will cease its Hawaii operations from 1st April, 2014 after flying five million passengers on its Bombardier CRJ200s since launch. They are saying the decision is a result of a new strategy to focus on its mainland operations as an aircraft operator for United Airlines and US Airways. The reality is that I suspect go! has never made a cent for its owners who also stumped up for significant legal costs. They had considered a merger with Island Air and were in an arrangement with another competitor Mokulele but had been dwindling over the last two years.
Not everyone will miss go! The last CEO of Aloha Airlines said from his home in Ireland: “Go was a parasite and destroyed so many people’s lives”. Ouch!
Ironically,go! have set up an agreement with Hawaiian Airlines to transport their passengers 1 April to 30 June. Passengers with bookings after June 30 will receive refunds.
go! join other short-lived airlines that have come and gone in Hawaii:
- Discovery Airways (1990 to 1990)- unable to prove US ownership and grounded
- Mahalo Air (1993 to 1997)- went into chapter 11
- Mid Pacific Air (1981 to 1988) kept flying in continental United States until 1995
- Pacific Wings (2007 to 2013) Commuter airline with a colourful history
The island state has a population of 1.3million and around eight million tourists annually, is left with three airlines:
- Hawaiian Airlines, the largest airline in Hawaii cover all of Hawaii and also fly to the US West Coast, Australia, and American Samoa with Boeing 717s on inter-island flights and Boeing 767s and Airbus A330s on the rest.
- Island Air is an airline that uses ATR 72s and Dash 8-100s. Larry Ellison of Oracle bought Island in 2013.
- Mokulele Airlines is a commuter airline using Cessna Grand Caravans
Is there an opportunity for another carrier to expand across Hawaii?
- United has a large Pacific presence through to Guam. Could they go inter-island?
- American? Delta?
- Alaska fly from a lot of places on the west coast into Hawaii. An Alaska Hawaiian subsidiary could be interesting
- Could Ellison’s Island Air be beefed up to become a stronger competitor?
- Or Someone new?