In less than three weeks, Hawaiian Airlines in Kona will begin international service to and and from Tokyo.
Hawaiian will start with three flights a week to and from Haneda International Airport. Each flight will carry up to 278 passengers.
"We think that is the right level to start service with right now for the demand. But we would love nothing better than for the demand to exceed those expectations and continue to grow," said Peter Ingram, Hawaiian Airlines executive vice president.
International flights to Kona International Airport stopped in 2010. Shortly after that a federal inspection station shut down.
Now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a new facility at that airport so direct flights can resume.
Gov. David Ige has sought to re-establish Kona as Hawaii's second international airport. He said other airlines are also interested in direct flights to Kona.
"We see a big future in terms of flights into Kona. I've also been pitching pre-clearance at Narita Airport, Incheon, all of the airports," he said.
Hawaiian Airlines predicts the Tokyo-Kona route will generate over $50 million in annual visitor spending and create more visitor industry jobs. Hawaiian has hired 34 people for its station in Kona.
Customs officers will fly from Honolulu to Kona on days Hawaiian's flights arrive.
"They are in close proximity, obviously, to be able to perform that same day. So we can travel, clear the flight and return in the same shift," said Bryan Humphrey, of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The Federal Inspection Service facility will have 10 automated passport control kiosks to process passengers quickly, plus new security cameras. The additions are all part of the state's $2 million facility upgrade.
Hawaiian's first Kona to Tokyo flight leaves the Big Island on Dec. 20. The first incoming flight from Tokyo arrives at Kona International Airport the next day.