Hawaii tourism officials working to get special Tokyo-Kona flights operating this summer

HONOLULU, Hawaii – The Hawaii Tourism Authority is working to have Japan Airlines fly 10 flights from Tokyo’s Narita airport to Kailua-Kona this summer in hopes strong ticket sales will lead the carrier to restore regularly scheduled service to the Big Island, an official said Wednesday.

The initial plan was to have the flights operated in June and July, said David Uchiyama, the agency’s vice-president for brand management. But he said the worldwide grounding of Boeing 787 aircraft is creating uncertainty for the plan because the airline may not have enough planes to operate the flights.

The 787 has been grounded since Jan. 16 after one plane had a battery fire, and a smoking battery on another plane forced an emergency landing.

Boeing is currently seeking Federal Aviation Administration approval for a plan to fix the battery problem.

Uchiyama said having the 787 back in the air would be key to whether Japan Airlines would fly to Kona this summer.

“How soon they can come back up is going to determine whether they’re going to be able to follow through with that,” Uchiyama said on the sidelines of the agency’s spring marketing meeting for industry professionals.

The agency views the special flights as a way to boost the number of tourists travelling to the Big Island in the long run.

Uchiyama said the flights could be a stepping stone to the return of regular service.

“They want to be able to see if the interest and demand is there. The charter flights would be a good way of measuring the waters,” Uchiyama said, speaking of the airline.

On Hawaii’s end, the flights would help officials get customs and immigration facilities running again at the Kona airport.

Honolulu is currently the only Hawaii airport that receives flights from cities outside North America.

Japan Airlines flew nonstop from Narita to Kona for 14 years. But it halted this flight in 2010 while it underwent restructuring after declaring bankruptcy.