By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor
A proposed flight subsidy program for Molokai that’s currently moving through Hawaii legislature seeks to bring relief to Molokai residents who struggle with the high cost of air travel. Molokai’s Senator Lynn DeCoite proposed the bill to “assist with the cost of airfare for Molokai residents traveling inter island for essential services.”
Senate Bill 784 would require the state Dept. of Transportation to establish a one-year pilot program to provide subsidies for airlines providing service to Molokai. Since January 2021, only Mokulele Airlines flies into Molokai, and the bill seeks to not only lower ticket prices for residents but also incentivize other airlines to serve the island.
“My whole goal as a senator is to make sure the same resources and services other islands have are also available to the residents of Molokai,” said DeCoite. “This subsidy can help grant access to services like medical care off island that Molokai residents need to get, stay and remain healthy.”
“While the airline has done their best to accommodate the needs of passengers, including additional routes, flight times, and ordering larger planes, the cost of plane tickets remains a hinderance to many Molokai residents who need to travel for essential reasons, including work, medical appointments and family,” SB784 reads. “A subsidy can help the airlines offset the cost of passenger tickets while encouraging other airlines to also provide service at Molokai airport.”
Along with high prices, residents have been struggling with limited flight availability, as well as a high frequency of delayed or cancelled Mokulele flights, which have affected their ability to reach essential medical appointments.
DeCoite said she hopes the bill could bring ticket prices under the $100 mark. Mokulele currently operates about a dozen trips a day between Molokai and Honolulu, currently priced between $69 to $119 each way.
The target amount for the one-year subsidy program is $1 million, according to DeCoite.
The subsidy would be used to assist Molokai passengers only – the Hawaii Dept. of Transportation and the airline “would need to work out a way to verify residency – most likely would be showing an ID or proof of residency on Molokai,” said DeCoite.
Mokulele’s Chief of Staff Keith Sisson told Civil Beat, “We are very supportive of anything that can help lower the cost of airfare in the marketplace.”
SB 784 passed the Senate Transportation and Culture and the Arts Committee on Feb. 7 and the bill’s next step is to get a hearing in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, according to DeCoite’s office. During the hearing process, residents can submit testimony through capitol.hawaii.gov. If or when the bill passes to the House of Representatives, there will be more opportunities to testify.
The bill’s text currently states an effective date of 2050, but DeCoite’s staff said that would be changed to an effective date in the nearer future should the bill continue to proceed on its path to be passed.
Residents can follow the bill’s progress and read its complete text by visiting capitol.hawaii.gov and entering SB784 into the search.