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Island Air has been operating under a cloak of secrecy since billionaire Larry Ellison purchased the local interisland carrier in mid-February.
It was no different Tuesday when CEO Paul Casey, the keynote speaker at the Pacific Asia Travel Association luncheon, spoke for less than four minutes and then dashed out from the banquet room without taking questions.
“My remarks today will be very brief by design. We’re a private company,” Casey told an audience of several hundred attendees, devoting half of the four minutes reminiscing about his time as a board member at PATA.
One thing is clear, though. Since Casey was hired as CEO on May 1, he has focused a lot of attention on Lanai, which is 97 percent-owned by Ellison.
“When I arrived at Island Air a short six months ago, I realized I was one leg in a three-legged stool,” Casey said in his speech. “It was a partnership between, on one hand, (Four Seasons Resorts Lana’i General Manager) Tom Roelens, his employees at the hotel and his customers. And on the other hand you had (Chief Operating Officer) Kurt Matsumoto from Pulama Lana’i, and his employees, and the residents of the island, and all of the small businesses involved. And we were the delivery system.”
Casey said Island Air has since created a strong partnership with Roelens and the others.
“We’ve got a strong commitment to him (Roelens) and his people to do anything that is legal to help get people on the island,” Casey said.
That commitment apparently also includes supporting a competitor.
Acknowledging fellow luncheon speaker Hadden Watt, managing director for startup turboprop carrier ‘Ohana by Hawaiian, Casey added, “If Hadden can fly and help increase those numbers (to Lanai), that’s terrific. We welcome him.”
‘Ohana by Hawaiian, the turboprop operation that Hawaiian Airlines hoped to start this summer, has not been able to get off the ground because the Federal Aviation Administration said it doesn’t have the resources to get through the certification, according to Hawaiian. Last week, Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Mark Dunkerley called the situation “deplorable.”
Hadden indicated Tuesday there is still no set timetable.
“By mid-next YEAR, we hope to have ‘Ohana by Hawaiian in the air and we will be able connect Lanai one-stop to 30 international, domestic, mainland and Hawaiian island destinations,” Watt said.
Casey, who on Sept. 16 wrote in an internal email to employees that Island Air’s recently acquired fleet of ATR 72s was “unreliable,” said in the email that the company would bring in a new fleet of reliable turboprops “in a few weeks.”
But Casey, who has followed Ellison’s lead in avoiding the media, declined to talk about the new fleet Tuesday as he was briskly exiting the Hawaii Prince Hotel, the site of the luncheon.
“I can’t comment,” he said. “I know it’s frustrating for you but it’s equally frustrating for me.”
Casey said Island Air, which has struggled financially in the past, is now in good hands.
“Mr. Ellison’s ownership means we’re in it for the long haul,” Casey told the PATA audience. “He owns the island. He owns the two hotels and he owns the airline. We’re in the process of rebuilding the airline.”
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