Dear fellow A.Netters,
Welcome to my 29th trip report, which covers a short, roundtrip jaunt between Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii and Kahului on the island of Maui. I hope you enjoy the report and photos. As always, comments and questions are greatly appreciated!
In early January of 2013, I joined some of my family for a six-day vacation on Hawaii’s Big Island. As an aviation enthusiast, I was especially eager to see the beauty of the islands from the air, and looked into several companies offering helicopter sightseeing flights around the Big Island. Unfortunately, all of the options were at least a few hundred dollars per person, even for the shortest tours. There were also a few tours using light, fixed-wing aircraft, which were somewhat cheaper than the helicopter tours, but still above my budget.
So, I starting looking into another option, one that would make sense only to aviation enthusiasts like us—a roundtrip hop on a scheduled carrier, just for the sake of flying new routes, new types and, most of all, getting in the air to see the islands from above! After a bit of investigating, I decided to do a roundtrip from Kona to the neighboring island of Maui, and in particular Kahului, the island’s main airport. This route was served by three carriers: Hawaiian Airlines, using Boeing 717s, and the much smaller Pacific Wings and Mokulele Airlines, both using Cessna 208 Caravans. As my goal was to make this a sightseeing flight of sorts, I decided to go “lower and slower” and opt for one leg each on Pacific Wings and Mokulele, which also offered the chance to fly the Cessna 208, which for me was a first.
I searched the schedules before opting for an early-morning roundtrip on the final day of my vacation. Although the early-morning wakeup would be painful, it would allow me to be back at the hotel by mid-morning to enjoy some final beach time with my family before our evening departure back to the mainland (and for me onward from there back to Belgium). The two one-way tickets on Pacific Wings and Mokulele combined for a total price of just over $100—less than half the price of the cheapest sightseeing flight. And although the flights would not quite offer the same spectacular views offered in a sightseeing flight, I knew the Hawaiian scenery visible on this route would certainly not disappoint. Moreover, it would give me a chance to compare two competing carriers operating the same aircraft types on the same routes.
TIME TO FLY
FLIGHT 1 OF
Date: 9 January 2013
Route: Kona (KOA)-Kahului (OGG
Flight #: LW
Aircraft Type: Cessna 208B Grand Caravan
Aircraft Registration: N303PW
Scheduled Departure: 07:35 HST
Actual Takeoff: 07:34 HST
Scheduled Arrival: 08:10 HST
Actual Landing: 08:07 HST
Flight Time: 0:33
Distance: 84 miles (135 kilometers)
Altitude: 8,500 feet MSL (2,590 meters)
Seat: 3rd row, left-side window
My Logbook: 1st flight on Pacific Wings / 1st flight on the Cessna 208 / 314th airline flight overall
(Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper)
I set the alarm for 5:45 am and, after a quick shower and cup of coffee, was on the road in my rental car towards the Kona airport, about 25 minutes away. I pulled into the pay parking lot and made my way towards the terminal looking for the Pacific Wings check-in area. I was not sure whether the airline flew from the main terminal or from a separate general aviation facility, but as I had not noticed any signs for Pacific Wings, I headed for the main building. I ended up finding a Hawaiian Airlines employee and asked where the Pacific Wings check-in area was. Although I was flying with the competition, he was friendly and informed me that I needed to walk about a quarter mile from the main terminal to reach the commuter terminal. I thanked him and proceeded on my way. After a nice walk, I reached the commuter terminal, which was more a cluster of small buildings than an actual terminal.
I noticed the signs indicating free parking for customers of the commuter carriers. Given that my car was in the pay lot, and that I still had about an hour until my flight, I decided to go get my car and re-park it in the free lot. That process took about 15 minutes, but as I was not in a rush, it was worth it to save a few bucks.
Once I had taken care of the car, I made my way into the small, open-air building.
Upon arriving at the Pacific Wings counter, I was a bit surprised to find it unstaffed. Instead, a sign instructed passengers arriving for check-in to pick up the phone sitting on the counter and check in with an agent on the other end of the line. This was definitely a first for me—a bit odd and not really the most welcoming experience, especially since the neighboring Mokulele desk was staffed by two agents who were also providing complimentary bottles of water to passengers who were checking in.
Nonetheless, the phone check-in process was quick and the agent on the other end told me to have a seat and wait for the pilots to come get me. Instead of sitting idly by, I headed back outside to have a look at the aircraft on the ramp. As Kona is a destination for the rich and sometimes famous, there was a lot of nice equipment parked on the tarmac.
There was also a very nice little Cessna 208 wearing the Mokulele livery which was awaiting its next hop to Maui, just before my departure on Pacific Wings.
Around 7:15, my inbound Pacific Wings Cessna 208 landed and taxied up to the commuter terminal. In contrast to the Mokulele fleet, this aircraft was nondescript in its simple white paint. To me, the lack of a proper paint job made this little workhorse even more interesting, and I was glad to fly on her. However, from the standpoint of branding, Mokulele seemed to outdo Pacific Wings.
Preparing this small aircraft for the next flight was a quick process, and by 7:25 one of the pilots entered the little terminal and asked those of us awaiting this flight to Maui to follow him to the aircraft. We walked through the gate of the chain-link fence and out onto the tarmac—a fun experience that reminded me of my youth, when my father was active as a private pilot. There were only three passengers, including me, and the pilot lead us to the rear door on the starboard side, pointing each of us to the necessary seat for weight and balance purposes. He then gave us a short and informal safety briefing before closing the door from the outside and reentering the airplane through the cockpit door. Being in this small cabin brought back more memories of my childhood flying with my father. Although this 208 was certainly bigger than the 172s and 182s of those days, the look and feel, and the sense of being in a small aircraft, was the same. It was great!
Despite the small cabin, the legroom and seat were no worse than what one finds on any number of large airliners.
With the doors sealed and the two pilots side-by-side up front, the turbo-prop engine began to whine and the blades started spinning. At 7:30, the wheels started rolling and we made our way across the tarmac toward the taxiway.
In this powerful Cessna, there was no need for the full length of Kona’s 11,000 foot (3,350 meter) runway, so we soon took to the centerline somewhere in the middle of its length, the nose pointing south for a RWY17 departure.
At 07:34, I watched as the flying pilot pushed forward the throttle. We accelerated very quickly and before I knew it, were in the air. As someone who mostly flies on big jets these days, I was surprised how short the takeoff roll was.
Immediately after takeoff, I got a nice view of many millions of dollars sitting on the tarmac. I hope to someday have the chance to ride in one of these!
About a minute after liftoff, we began a 180-degree turn back to the north, with the Kona airport coming into view off the port side.
After passing just north of the airport, we turned to the northwest before passing over the coastline and continuing out over the Alenuihāhā Channel separating the island of Hawaii and Maui. We soon leveled off at our cruising altitude of 8,500 feet (2,590 meters).
One of the nice things about being in such a small aircraft was that I could snap photos out the windows on both sides.
Another major benefit was having a direct view into the front office!
It was a gorgeous morning for flying, with nice light and beautiful effects in the clouds.
Before long, we approached the island of Maui, which was visible off the right-hand side with its volcanic topography directly meeting the waves of the Pacific.
Meanwhile, out the port-side windows, the island of Kahoʻolawe appeared. This is the smallest of the eight main Hawaiian islands. This island was used by the US military as a bombing range and training ground until the 1990s. Today it is generally uninhabited and is closed to the public, with the only visits being for Hawaiian cultural and religious practices.
Meanwhile one of the pilots announced that we had begun our descent into Maui and that we should keep our eyes on the water for the chance of seeing whales, as he had seen them on most of his recent flights over the waters just south of Maui. Unfortunately, there were none visible on this day, but it was a nice effort by the pilot, nonetheless. During the descent I also followed our progress on the cockpit instruments, which was interesting for an aviation fan like me. We descended at 700 feet per minute according to the gauge up front, which from the perception of a passenger was fairly gentle.
In the channel between Kaho’olawe and Maui sits the partially submerged volcanic crater of Molokini, which also offered nice views as we began our descent into Maui. This island is a very popular spot for divers.
As we continued our descent, I spied the rocky, volcanic coastline of Maui as it came into view directly beneath the tire. Spectacular!
Of course, the island of Maui, as a whole, is spectacular as well, and I was treated to lovely views of the island’s greenery as we turned to the north on final approach towards the airport.
I divided my time between looking out the window to my left, and looking out the front windscreen. It was a treat to be able to see forward, and I watched with great interest as the flying pilot lined up with the runway.
The aircraft stabilized on short final as we glided the last distance toward the runway.
We touched down smoothly on RWY35 at 8:07 after a flight time of 33 minutes. The pilot steered the Cessna onto a taxiway to the left.
Just three minutes after landing, we reached our parking position at the commuter terminal. The shutdown process was quick and within a minute or so I was off the aircraft. The walk across the ramp gave me some nice photos of my aircraft and the rest of the lineup.
With almost an hour until my Mokulele flight back to Kona, I decided to stretch my legs a little. I proceeded to the front of the commuter terminal building, which here in Maui was still small, but nonetheless a bit more substantial than the facilities in Kona.
I checked in at the Mokulele counter for my flight back to Kona, which was a simple and quick process with the friendly agent. I then passed the rest of the time reading a newspaper and enjoying the warm breeze as it drifted through the open structure of the terminal. Before I knew it, the same friendly Mokulele agent made an announcement that my flight was ready for boarding.
FLIGHT 2 OF
Date: 9 January 2013
Route: Kahului (OGG
Flight #: MW1760
Aircraft Type: Cessna 208B Grand Caravan
Aircraft Registration: N864MA “The Spirit of Maui”
Scheduled Departure: 09:12 HST
Actual Takeoff: 09:10 HST
Scheduled Arrival: 09:54 HST
Actual Landing: 09:44 HST
Flight Time: 0:34
Distance: 84 miles (135 kilometers)
Altitude: 9,500 feet MSL (2,895 meters)
Seat: 3rd row, left-side window
My Logbook: 1st flight on Mokulele Airlines / 2nd flight on the Cessna 208 / 315th airline flight overall
The six passengers, including me, gathered by the door to the tarmac, and the agent read each of our names off the manifest and told us which seat to take in the aircraft for weight and balance purposes. At 9:00 sharp, she opened the door and escorted us across the tarmac to our waiting Cessna.
We entered the aircraft and I found my seat in the third row on the left side—the same seat I had been assigned on my inbound flight. I was immediately impressed at the difference in the condition of the cabin compared to my earlier flight with Pacific Wings. This aircraft was equipped with nice fixtures including wood paneling at the front, cup holders next to each seat and TV
monitors (although the monitors remained off for the duration of my flight). The whole cabin had a much more “finished” feel to it, as opposed to the bare-bones cabin I found on Pacific Wings. For a short flight on a commuter airline, such things do not make a huge difference to me; I am only pointing out, once again, the image and product that Mokulele seemed to be projecting compared to that of its competitor.
Meanwhile, the white Pacific Wings aircraft I had arrived on still sat on the ramp awaiting its next flight.
Within a minute of boarding, the other passengers had also settled in and one of the pilots gave a quick safety briefing before sealing the door and hopping in the cockpit. The legroom was about the same as my previous flight, which is to say adequate for a short hop, and the seat was comfortable.
I took a moment to check out the safety card.
Soon the pilots started the engine and we taxied across the ramp. I quickly realized we were not taxiing toward the longer RWY02/20 I had arrived on earlier; instead we taxied the short distance to RWY05, which is immediately adjacent the commuter terminal on the northwestern edge of the airport.
We lined up on the centerline at 9:10 and began another short takeoff roll before launching up and away.
We then made a climbing right turn to the southeast, with lush, green fields passing underneath.
Soon the rugged, rocky flows coming off the flanks of the Haleakalā volcano came into view.
It was a gorgeous morning and the views were spectacular as we passed over the western and southwestern flanks of the massive shield volcano.
As we approached the southern side of the mountain, beautiful clouds appeared, climbing up the slopes.
We soon leveled off at 9,500 feet (2,900 meters) and headed out over the channel towards the Big Island. The views remained gorgeous, with the blue of the Pacific below, and the white, whipped cirrus clouds of the flight levels far above.
Before long, the big volcano of Mauna Kea appeared, rising out of the island, itself rising out of the water.
Too quickly, we began our descent towards Kona. The haze in the next photo is not smog, but rather “vog”—particles and gasses released from an active volcano.
The Cessna approached the rocky coastline, which offered beautiful views of the water and the features under the surface.
As we descended the final distance to the runway, we passed over more beautiful, rocky flows—simply an amazing landscape.
As the flying pilot began the flare, I turned my camera to the front. Just a few more feet to go…
We touched down smoothly on RWY17 at 9:44, after a flying time of 34 minutes. I had departed from this same runway just two hours and ten minutes earlier, and of that time, one hour and seven minutes was in the air. Not a bad excursion, in my opinion!
We exited the runway to the left and taxied south past the main terminal and cargo ramp toward the commuter terminal.
It was neat to see this Short 360 cargo plane—not a very common type at most airports these days.
A mere two minutes after touchdown, we came to a stop at our parking position.
The prop stopped spinning and within a minute, the pilot opened the rear passenger door from the outside, allowing us to disembark. I thanked him for the flight and—as I had not been able to see the altimeter during the flight, asked him what our cruising altitude had been. He replied 9,500 feet (hence I was able to cite this figure earlier in the report), and I thanked him again and proceeded on my way. But not before two final photos of the nice Cessna sitting on the tarmac.
I made my way back through the gate in the chain-link fence and was again “landside” at Kona. Not wanting my aviation experience to be quite over, I decided to walk to the far end of the parking lot to see what other aircraft were on the ramp. Here are a couple interesting, and very different, examples.