Crucial Vote Could Determine Aloha's Air Cargo Future

Capt. John Riddel
Capt. John Riddel

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- The future of Hawaii's air cargo service all comes down to a crucial vote Wednesday night. Current and former Aloha Airlines pilots get ready to vote on whether to authorize a strike that could cripple the company's inter-island business.

A vote Wednesday night to approve a strike doesn't mean one will happen right away. It just keeps it as an option. But if a strike does happen, it'll basically shut down Aloha's cargo operation.

Aloha Airlines' cargo business is one lifeline of Hawaii commerce, transporting 85 percent of commodities like mail and bread to the neighbor islands.

A pilot strike could have a major impact.

"Obviously it would paralyze the movement of the trip between the islands," Capt. John Riddel, a pilot who worked for Aloha Airlines for 23 years.

Wednesday's vote doesn't necessarily mean a strike is imminent.

"It will allow us in the future as long as it's been authorized by Capt. John Prater, the president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) in Washington, an opportunity for us to strike in the future if we continue to have this major dispute with a company right now regarding adherence to our collective bargaining agreement."

The pilots union claims it hasn't talked to Aloha management since April 7th. Pilots still have hope of reaching a compromise.

"That's one of the reasons we, again, ask that they sit down and discuss what these plans are for the cargo operation and for adhering to our contract as we move into the future if there is a future," said Riddel.

There are also some questions about the pilots' status.

"We've been told we've been terminated, yet in the bankruptcy proceedings the labor attorney for the debtor of the company said that is not true. We've been furloughed," said Riddel. "So we need to get these questions answered in a proper legal arena."

If Aloha's cargo operation shuts down, there isn't another airline that can easily take over. Hawaiian Airlines is looking to get Boeing 717 cargo planes to Hawaii, but that won't happen until about September.

So the impact of this vote could be felt through the summer months.

Members of the pilots union will vote on it at 7:30 pm Wednesday. We'll know about 8:30 pm or so what they decide.