Hawaii's congressional delegation, government and business officials, in an effort to reduce the islands' multimillion-dollar losses from the United Airlines strike, are lobbying Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole to lift a rule prohibiting foreign airlines from flying passengers from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii.
"We are getting killed. We estimate our losses at $1.5 million a day, but it will be $3 million a day when we hit the high season after June 15 -- $100 million a month," said Galen Fox, executive assistant to Honolulu Mayor Frank F. Fasi, who is a member of a group that met Monday and yesterday with Dole and other Department of Transportation officials.
But the Hawaiian contingent, which included Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Spark M. Matsunaga, and Rep. Cecil Heftel, all Democrats, left with little hope that DOT would grant "cabotage" rights allowing foreign carriers to fly domestic U.S. routes, according to participants.
Foreign carriers are prohibited by law from flying such routes. DOT has had authority since 1979 to grant cabotage for emergency purposes, but has done so only six times, each case involving a single flight about which there were diplomatic or security concerns, according to a DOT spokesman.
Monday, DOT denied a petition by Qantas, the Australian airline, to fly passengers from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii, citing the absence of an emergency -- the only grounds for suspending the longstanding prohibition. Objections to Qantas' application were filed by the Air Line Pilots Association, which is striking United Airlines, and four competing carriers: TWA, Pan American, Northwest and Delta.
United normally flies 21 flights daily from the mainland to Hawaii, carrying an average of about 5,000 passengers. But with 85 percent of its flights grounded, the airline has been flying two trips daily, with about 850 passengers.
Despite this cutback, DOT said it did not consider Hawaii's situation an emergency because airline seats are available to Hawaii and few passengers have been stranded there.
"We came, we saw, we lost," Fasi, a Democrat-turned-Republican, said after the meeting with DOT officials.
"We think we have an emergency," Fasi said, because of the slump in Hawaii's tourist trade and resulting unemployment. "But they don't agree with us yet."