Senate Committee Clears Major Hurdle for Aloha Airlines

HAWAII STATE CAPITOL (KHNL) -- Lawmakers pave the way to help for local airlines, a week after Aloha Airlines declares bankruptcy.

"We depend on Aloha Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and all interisland transportation and we need to stay strong," said Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Senate Majority Leader.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee unanimously passed a house bill Thursday morning that would exempt interisland carriers from a general excise tax on jet fuel. It still has to go to the full Senate, but Thursday's vote shows the tremendous support for Aloha Airlines over at the state Capitol.

Aloha employees say naturally they are grateful for the support, and lawmakers say unlike a lot of issues they deal with, this bill was not controversial at all.

Jet fuel is one of an airline's biggest expenses. The house bill could help Aloha and other local carriers by putting an exemption on the general excise tax for jet fuel.

"The cost of fuel is really hurting a lot of airlines, Aloha Airlines particularly," said Sen. Hooser. "So this bill will help those airlines stay in business and stay strong."

As crude oil prices hit record highs, the bill would provide much needed financial relief for smaller carriers like Aloha to the tune of $3.5 million each year.

"On this bill, there was very little discussion today," said Sen. Hooser. "We all knew going into it that we wanted to support this bill and we passed it, I believe, without much discussion at all."

"I think it's great just to know that we've got not only the local but the state government backing and taking care of us," said Wayne Wakeman, an Aloha Airlines pilot.

Lawmakers are looking at another bill that would provide loan guarantees for Aloha. It would make the company more appealing to potential buyers.

"Now when you have investors looking at investing in the airline, or even buying the airline, that gives them a guarantee that whatever loans they may need to get, it's guaranteed in case something does happen," said Wakeman.

And many Aloha employees are hoping something positive comes out of the bankruptcy.

"Are you optimistic that Aloha can get through this?" asked KHNL.

"Very much so, very much so," said Wakeman. "And that's not just my opinion. I can honestly share that as pretty much almost everybody, that we're going to get through this."

The fuel excise tax bill will go to the senate floor early next week, and both bills that could help Aloha have very good chances of passing.

The parent company of Young Brothers, Hawaiian Tug and Barge, and several other Hawaii enterprises are making a bid for Aloha's air cargo operation.

Seattle based Saltchuk Resources didn't reveal how much it would pay, but it is not interested in Aloha's passenger business. The company currently operates Alaska's largest all-cargo airline and uses the same type of aircraft there, as it would use here in Hawaii. The company has been doing business in Hawaii for eight years.