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Regional connections

Following the start of all-cargo services by Hawaiian Airlines, the spotlight is back on regional freighters but despite abundant freight to carry, finding enough pilots is a concern. Ian Putzger reports
It was not quite the start of freighter flights that Brad Matheny, Managing Director of Cargo at Hawaiian Airlines, had expected. In August the carrier returned to all-cargo operations with its new ATR-72 freighters taking off from Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport loaded with construction tools, household supplies, furniture and school supplies. 
They were headed for Lihue and Hilo on neighbouring islands to bring disaster relief to communities that had been hit respectively by devastating storms and volcanic lava flow. Hawaiian operated freighters in the 1940s to move beef and other goods between the islands but has been a pure belly carrier for decades.“The timing was pretty good in terms of our ability to help out,” Matheny says. “At that point you have the space because you’re still gearing up.”
The airline’s resumption of freighter activities had been in the pipeline for a while, as the conversion of the ATR-72 took longer than anticipated, but it was also a matter of preparing for the new venture. Two weeks before the official start Hawaiian began test flights, moving some backlog cargo, to gear up for scheduled service. “They wanted to do it right and make sure they could provide a reliable service,” comments Tim Komberec, President of Empire Airlines, which operates the flights for the Hawaiian carrier.
“It’s been going as expected,” he adds. “That size plane really hits a great market niche.” Matheny is equally enthusiastic about the aircraft, saying that the early experience has been smooth and performance has improved as employees have become more adept at handling the new equipment brought in for the operation, such as a custom-made loader. “We’ve managed to ratchet down our turn time a bit,” he says.
Regular operations commenced in the second half of August, with the two ATR freighters flying five nights a week. They do two round-trips, one to Hilo on Hawai’i Island and the other to Lihue on Kaua’i. Next year the operation is set to double in scope. A third ATR-72 freighter is expected to join the fleet in the first quarter of 2019. Once this is ready, Matheny intends to add two more routes to the operation to serve Kona on Hawai’i Island and Kahulio on Maui.
“We have plans to grow the business further,” he says, adding that a fourth plane will probably enter service in the middle of next year. With four aircraft in the fleet Hawaiian can add further routes or, more likely, ratchet up frequencies. Matheny is thinking of either an early morning or a late afternoon rotation to establish better connectivity with Hawaiian’s long haul flights. >>

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