Editor’s Note: Aloha Airlines Exposes Leadership Void

June, 2008

On the same Monday in April that Aloha Airlines’ cargo operations shut down, Hawaii Business and the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs held a forum for senior business executives on Hawaii’s changing demographics. At that forum, panelist and Maui Mayor, Charmaine Tavares, mentioned that effects of the loss of the air cargo operations on Maui were “horrendous” and that she was planning to meet with Gov. Linda Lingle after the forum to talk about what to do.

“Any responsible public leader should have known for some time that Aloha (Airlines) was going to collapse,” responded Island Insurance Chairman and Aloha Airlines investor Colbert Matsumoto during the follow up Q&A period.  “The crisis facing us now reflects a failure of leadership in the community. …There’s no chance for government to salvage the situation at this point.”

“The fact that there wasn’t a bailing out of Aloha Airlines mystifies a lot of people,” Tavares admitted. 

The bailing out never happened in time for Aloha’s passenger operations, but the finger pointing started as soon as those ceased on March 31. Gov. Linda Lingle announced that she would ask the bankruptcy court not to allow the shutdown of Aloha Airlines’ passenger services, even though the state had questionable standing in the case and Aloha maintained that state officials knew of the airline’s precarious financial condition for months earlier.

After the air cargo operations shut down in late April, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, provided some needed leadership, and stepped in to help restructure a broken deal for the sale of Aloha Airline’s cargo operations to Seattle-based Saltchuk Resources Inc., the owner of Young Brothers/Hawaiian Tug & Barge, preserving about 300 local jobs.

As Features Editor David K. Choo shows us in “What Really Killed Aloha Airlines,” many forces contributed to the demise of Aloha Airlines, not the least of which were individual consumers, who chose price point over buying local. Business sustainability now means educating local consumers that, while buying local may at times be more expensive, it is crucial to Hawaii’s long-term economic sustainability.

That’s a common theme in the Islands these days as Managing Editor Scott Radway found in his examination of the current state of business affairs on Kauai, where protests against the Superferry made national news. In the end, the sustainability of local business hinges upon community engagement. If businesses demonstrate a willingness to engage with and invest in our community, it will then be up to consumers and public officials to do the right things, too.

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Kelli Abe Trifonovitch