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Saturday, December 7, 2019
Naming Names: Meet the Political Insiders Behind Eviction of Barbers Point Air Museum
By Selected News Articles @ 6:28 PM :: 4065 Views :: Ethics, Hawaii History, Military

A tale of an eviction, Part III

by Stan Fichtman, PoliticsHawaii.com

SOMETIMES YOU WONDER who edits articles in the newspaper. Case in point an article in the Sunday Honolulu Star Advertiser on November 24. In the features section, it reported on the arrival of a new company to Hawaii to start charter plane operations between the islands. Aloha Wing Spirit, the name of the company, was reported to bring in a new type of plane, a Honda Jet Elite, to start on demand charter and air ambulance services.

And if the article had just ended with the story of how the company came here, that would have been more than sufficient for the reader. But the last quarter of the article it took a very odd direction. It talked about the Honolulu Community College Air Academy, which was previously housed out of Hangar 111 at Barbers Point and the fact that there was “interest by a Japanese Aviation Academy to use the facility for a new aviation school.”

What the???

Why is a Japan Air Academy issue being talked about in light of Aloha Wing Sprit? And then why is Tim Sakahara – the spokesperson for the State of Hawaii Dept. of Transportation, saying right at the end of the article “[m]ultiple entities have expressed interest in the Kalaeloa Airport facilities including Wing Spirit, which has announced its intention to operate in Hawaii. However, formal plans and airports are yet to be finalized.”

I was confused. So down the rabbit hole I went to figure out this part of “A tale of an eviction” Part III.

A HondaJet Elite of Aloha Wing Spirit

HONDA MAKES JETS , yes, the same Honda company that makes automobiles like the Civic, Accord and legendary Silver and Gold Wing motorcycles. Their development of the small “HondaJet Elite” has been circulating in aviation news for a while. A small jet that can carry up to eight people at jet speeds and heights, at a lower cost is touted as a breakthrough. From corporate entities to air ambulances, the plane is potentially a game changer in the small aircraft category now populated with mostly propeller driven planes.

So it should come as no surprise that as of late, a HondaJet, owned by Honda, has been making the rounds in the islands. When the story was first told to me, I noted that one of the elements of this story had to do with Brad Hayes, Director of the Naval Air Museum Barbers Point, seeing a Honda Jet land at Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei. So I inquired on publicly accessible flight tracking web pages to find out. Turns out one plane, registered N191WS, has been flying between Kona, Honolulu and Kapolei.

And it would have stopped there except for two things. One: Part of the story Brad (from my interview with him from the museum) told me described a day when the plane, along with a larger corporate jet, landed at Kapolei and taxied to an area near the museum. Men in suits came out of the jets and got into (Brad’s take) “State licensed vehicles”. They drove around the filed as if they were doing a spot inspection.

The route of N191WS from Daniel K. Inouye to Kalaeloa

Fifteen or so minutes later, Brad said, the cars moseyed up to the planes, out came the passengers going back into the planes, of which they immediately took off.

The second was the confusing article in the Honolulu Advertiser.

ALOHA WING SPIRIT made its appearance in Hawaii around June of 2019. They did not waste time showing they were a good neighbor by helping sponsor events for the United States Conference of Mayors that met in Honolulu. They also brought in planes and started flying them around, including to Kona, Honolulu and, as mentioned before a flight to Kalaeloa.

Their website was full of pretty photos and write-ups of their proposed operations, but nothing of substance related to what their exact plans were. Looking a little more into the companies executive background, there were interesting names showing up. One that caught my attention was Paul Kobayashi Jr., former Vice President/Chief Financial Officer of the University of Hawaii Foundation. Another was Jack Vandelaar, former Manager of International Flight Operations at Hawaiian Airlines.

To me, thinking back on the days when my Pop would work for startup airlines after he retired from Aloha Airlines in 1984, to draw good talent into a new company takes many sweets, and maybe some ego building. To get people like this into Aloha Wing Spirit must have required a lot of money, promises and some of that ego building.

So the company was not going anywhere, it seems. And so I ventured to talk to the company, to see if, indeed, behind the confusing article lay a clue of why the museum was being evicted.

SHANE PETERS IS IN CHARGE OF communications for Aloha Wing Spirit. He gave me a call a day after I called the company and was told the person who was formerly head of communications was no longer there.

If you recognize the name, you should. Shane Peters has been in Communications for a while. From working at Communications Pacific, one of the largest communications firms in Hawaii, to being the communications director of the gubernatorial campaign for former Governor Neil Abercrombie, he was another higher-than-typical profile who now works for the airline.

He currently runs his own communications company, Peters Communications. For the record, the conversation between us was cordial, with Shane providing a clear position on where Aloha Wing Spirit stood.

“There is a conflation on issues,” Shane said early on. Yes, there was a landing of their plane at Kalaeloa and yes, there was a look-around by representatives of the Aviation Academy. But Shane was quite pointed to tell me that while the company might be working with this Japan Aviation Academy, Aloha Wing Spirit was not leading the charge on the establishment of the Academy.

They are, instead, in the business of getting planes on the ground, at Honolulu, and starting charter and air ambulance operations. There might be interest in basing some of the 15 Honda Jets in other airports, but nothing is set in stone.

“It’s not an easy task to start” Shane added, noting that their plans have the operation up and running sometime in the middle of 2020. Being a person that has seen what it takes to get an airline off the ground – shadowing my Pop in his consulting work in the 1980’s – I can appreciate the challenge they have.

Nevertheless, for purposes of this investigation, Shane told me “there are no plans for Kalaeloa” by the company. In fact, Shane told me that Aloha Wing Spirit has talked to Brad about the situation at Kalaeloa. I have reached out to Brad on hearing that Aloha Wing Spirit did talk to him, for comment. No response as of this publication.

SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US, the writer (me) and the reader (you) on this matter. Well, it seems that we have established this about the eviction:

The State Dept. of Transportation is either unwilling or unable to tell anyone what their plans are for Kalaeloa.

That the Neighborhood Board for the area is unaware of what is going on, and is now on alert to get to the bottom of what is happening.

A new air charter/ambulance company that is coming to Hawaii is somehow linked up with a entity called the Japan Aviation Academy, but is both not taking the lead in its establishment (but is helping them out) and has declared it is going to operate out of Dan Inouye International and not Kalaeloa.

That the State is still moving ahead with the eviction of the Museum, including possible disposal of planes on the tarmac at Kalaeloa. Furthermore, no plans on how they intend to take care of the disposed planes has emerged since discussing the issue in the last article.

There are a number of theories that have been presented to me since taking on this investigation, including the idea that Kalaeloa Airport could be converted into a place where a Strategic National Stockpile could be stored.

Wrapping up for this series of articles, one thing I have come to figure is that what is happening is equivalent to movements in chess. A side takes a move (the state), the museum responds. But in this game, there are third players who make moves on the board. And so on, and on.

In addition, everyone seems to be doing this under the guise of silence. Maybe by the nature of the subject we are talking about is just not loud enough to pierce the noise of regular people’s busy lives. However, every action on this eviction, I predict here, will have a magnifying effect on the airport, neighborhood and those who want to protect history. Maybe those actions will move this from background noise to a loud roar.

We will have to see. The story continues as events develop.

---30---

Related:

Part 1:  Barbers Point Air Museum: State Seeks Contractor to Destroy Historic Airplanes

Part 2: Barbers Point Air Museum: A Tale of an Eviction

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