A small airline’s expansion from Hawaii to the mainland now is providing service between Santa Maria and Los Angeles.
The new service kicks off with one flight a day through Oct. 9 while seeking approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Starting Oct. 10, the airline plans to provide four flights per day Mondays through Fridays, and three flights per day on weekends.
“We think this is a good fit for Santa Maria because it’s a small regional (airline) that has room to grow,” general manager Chris Hastert said.
United Airlines announced it would end United Express service between Santa Maria and San Francisco because of low passenger numbers.
The new flights will take passengers to Terminal 6 at Los Angeles International Airport.
Mokulele has interline agreements with Alaska Airlines, so passengers transferring to that airline can check their bags through.
“We are extremely pleased with the amount of support we have received from the community and the airport,” Mokulele president Rob McKinney said. “Everyone in Santa Maria has been fantastic to work with. We are planning to quickly become Santa Maria’s hometown airline.”
The planned merger between Alaska Air and Virgin America also could provide more opportunities for Santa Maria passengers, Hastert said.
Mokulele employs nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan single-engine airplanes, much smaller than the regional jets now used by United Express or the 19-passenger turboprop planes it previously used.
“If they don’t like small airplanes, we’re not looking to try to change their minds,” Hastert said, adding the company only needs to fill nine seats per flight.
Introductory fares are $65 for one-way flights, but Hastert expects the rates will remain more affordable than those offered by United.
Airport officials recently conducted a survey about where local passengers want to fly. While results are still being compiled, he said, Los Angeles and Phoenix proved popular destinations.
Mokulele is a family owned and operated business based in Kona, Hawaii, and began in 1994 to give tours before becoming an “island hopper” to provide services in Hawaii.
“They’ve grown as big as they can in Hawaii and they thought California would be the next logical spot,” Hastert said.
As an incentive, Santa Maria will offer free rent, free fuel flowage fees and free landing fees for the first year, a standard package to attract a new airline to the city.
Santa Maria will be the second Californian airport Mokulele will serve. The airline already flies between Imperial/El Centro Airport and LAX.
“They had four aircraft that were coming off of contract on the East Coast that they were looking for a new home for, so everything kind of aligned perfectly,” he said.
Santa Maria hopes to become home to the airline’s West Coast maintenance hub and pilot training as Mokulele expands in California.