Japan airlines ends service between Kona and Narita
by Chelsea Jensen
Japan Airlines’ final flight to Kailua-Kona came and went Friday morning, ending 14 years of daily service to West Hawaii.
Since the direct Narita, Japan, to Kailua-Kona flight began in June 1996 nearly a million Japanese visitors have arrived at Kona International Airport, said Hawaii Tourism Authority Tourism and Marketing Vice President David Uchiyama. Annually, the flight brought in more than 70,000 visitors into Kona International Airport, he said.
“This flight is the connection between Japan and the island. The relationship between Japan and Hawaii is very close so this is a very tough time for both sides,” Uchiyama said.
The flight was one of 15 international routes Japan Airlines announced in April 2010 it would suspend in order to restructure the company through bankruptcy.
Tsuruta Tetsuro and his wife, Nobuko, were two of the approximately 240 people waiting to board the final Japan Airlines flight out of Kona Friday. The couple, from Fukuoka, Japan, said they are regular visitors to the island and will continue to visit even though the direct flight has been suspended.
“It’s a pity it will make it a little more inconvenient to travel here,” Tsuruta said. “We will miss this flight, but JAL will get better soon, and they will bring back this flight.”
Some 164,745 Japanese travelers arrived on the Big Island in 2009 and stayed for an average three days, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Those visitors spent $268 per person per day on average, bringing in $108.5 million in revenue for the Big Island, according to the organization.
The JAL flight also played a major role in bringing Big Island products such as macadamia nuts, papayas, coffee, spirulina, fish and abalone directly to the Japanese market, said Carl Hayashi, one of the airline’s station managers at the airport.
No airline has submitted an application to replace JAL’s service, Uchiyama said. However, Japan Airlines, Delta Airlines and Korean Air have shown some interest, he said.
Although he had no definite answer about the possible return of the suspended flight, Honolulu-based JAL Hawaii Vice President and Regional Manager Ryoichi Okubo said, “We expect tourism demand to grow in the years to come and one day we hope to be able to come back to the Big Island.”
It was unclear Friday just how many jobs would be affected. When the flight began in 1996, about 100 employees were hired, Kona International Airport District Manager Chauncey Wong Yuen said. He was unable to provide how many employees had been added since and how many would now be laid off.
For Diane Quitiquit, a Big Island resident who helped bring the flight into Kailua-Kona in 1996, seeing the Boeing 767 take off from the airport Friday was bittersweet considering just how much of an impact the flight had on the Big Island’s economy.
“These past 14 years have been better than we could have ever hoped for. It was a relationship that totally worked for the people of the Big Island and Japan,” she said.