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Mokulele Airlines: 5 Fun Facts About The Hawaiian Commuter Carrier


  • Mokulele Airlines, founded by a Native Hawaiian woman, offers inter-island travel to Hawaii’s smaller communities.
  • The word “Mokulele” was created by Native Hawaiians to mean “island hopper.”
  • Mokulele Airlines is working with Ampaire to advance electric aviation in Hawaii.

Hawaii is a tropical archipelago of over 100 islands, although it is mostly known for its eight main islands. Hawaii (“the Big Island”), Maui, and Oahu are among these larger islands. The latter is home to about a third of the state’s population and the capital, Honolulu. There is no statewide ferry system for inter-island transport, so residents and visitors mostly travel by air between the islands.

One option for inter-island travel is Mokulele Airlines, which serves the Big Island, Oahu, Maui, and Molokai (the carrier does not currently serve the island of Kauai, a popular tourist destination). Mokulele Airlines has quite a fascinating history. Let’s examine some fun facts about this island-hopping carrier.

1 The founding of the airline was a historic event

Founded: 1994 | By: Rebecca “Kawehi” Inaba

Mokulele Airlines was founded in 1994 as Mokulele Flight Service by Rebecca “Kawehi” Inaba, making it the first airline in the world to be founded by a Native Hawaiian woman. The historical facts on the airline’s website state that Rebecca loved aviation, most likely because her father had worked as a pilot for Aloha Airlines (a passenger service carrier that operated out of Honolulu from 1946 to 2008). While the carrier began by offering air tours for sightseeing, it eventually expanded its operations through partnerships and ownership changes.

White Piper Navajo Chieftain aircraft with Mokulele Air painted on the side in red parked at Hana Airport

Here is a brief timeline of Mokulele Airlines’ service expansion.

  • 1994: Rebecca “Kawehi” Inaba founds Mokulele Flight Service, providing sightseeing tours of the Big Island and Maui.
  • 2005: William “Bill” Boyer, Jr. acquires Mokulele Flight Service and expands service to the Kahului Airport on Maui from the Big Island.
  • 2006: The airline partners with Mesa Air Group to begin service to Kapalua, Molokai, and Lanai City, Lanai.
  • 2008: The carrier branches out into cargo service through a partnership with Aloha Airlines called “Aloha Cargo Express” to Molokai, Lanai, and Kapalua on Maui.
  • 2011: Transpac Aviation acquires the airline, experiences a fresh start and provides charter service.
  • 2012: Mokulele Airlines provides service between Kahului, Maui, and Lanai, and Kapalua, Maui, and Honolulu. It adds Hana, also on Maui, to its routes.
  • 2014: Mesa Air Group shuts down the division with which Mokulele once agreed, lifting the restrictions on destinations to which Mokulele could fly. The airline begins flying passengers between Kahului and Honolulu, enhancing its reputation as a commuter carrier.

Mokulele Airlines is currently owned by Southern Airways Express.

2 A new word was added to the Hawaiian language

‘Moku’ means island | Lele means to leap or hop

The Hawaiian language is a Polynesian language. Hawaiian and English are both official languages of the state of Hawaii. According to Mokulele Airlines, no word for “airline” existed in the Hawaiian language when the first airplane was introduced. Native Hawaiians created the word “mokulele.”

White Cessna aircraft with Mokulele painted in red on the side and a red tail flying through blue sky

Photo: Mokulele Airlines

  • Moku means “island.”
  • Lele means “to leap or hop.”
  • Put together, Mokulele means “island hopper.”
  • An additional fun fact: “kuene mokulele” is a flight attendant.

The carrier prides itself on its mission to provide Hawaii’s smallest communities with flight services. Some of these communities include Hana and Kapalua on Maui, Waimea on the Big Island, Kalealoa on Oahu, and Kalaupapa on Molokai. While large carriers like Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines offer island-hopping options, Mokulele is still the best option for commuting by air to reach these smaller communities.

3 It is a dedicated island hopper airline

Destinations: 4

As described above, Mokulele Airlines has evolved since its founding in 1994 as an air tour operation to a mainstay for commuters. The airline operates over 100 scheduled daily flights to nine airports, including:

  • Oahu: Honolulu International Airport
  • Molokai: Hoolehua and Kalaupapa Airports
  • Maui: Kapalua, Kahului, and Hana Airports
  • Hawaii (Big Island): Kona and Waimea-Kohala

Terminal building of Kapalua Airport on the waterfront with aircraft parked in front

In addition to its regularly scheduled flights, Mokulele Airlines offers charter service to all these airports. Travelers may also book charter flights to Barbers Point (Kalaeloa) on Oahu, Hilo on the Big Island, and Lanai City on Lanai. The carrier has hubs at the Kahului Airport on Maui and Honolulu International Airport on Oahu. Under normal conditions, most island destinations served by Mokulele Airlines can be reached in about 45 minutes.

4 It’s looking to transition to electric planes in the future

The first electric flight on a commercial route

Mokulele Airlines is working with Ampaire, an American electric aircraft manufacturer, to advance electric aviation in Hawaii. On November 22, 2020, an Ampaire Electric EEL aircraft became the first hybrid electric aircraft to conduct a test flight on a commercial airline route, according to Elemental Excelerator, which funded the project. The upgraded Cessna 337 flew from Kahului to Hana on Maui and back on a single charge.

White aircraft flying near vegetation-covered cliff with a waterfall on the ocean's edge

Photo: Ampaire

Ampaire states that the Electric EEL aircraft can serve owner-flown, charter, and short-haul regional airline/cargo carriers. Here are some pertinent facts about the aircraft:

  • The Electric EEL is an upgraded six-seat Cessna 337 (Skymaster).
  • It is hybrid electric with a range of over 400 miles if carrying three passengers or 450 pounds.
  • Ampaire estimates fuel savings of 50 to 70%.
  • The cost savings for maintenance is estimated at 25 to 50%.

The project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and noise from aviation, reinvigorate rural regional airports, and provide an affordable path toward more frequent travel among the islands’ small airports.

Read more: When Ampaire made its longest ever flight to Oshkosh

5 So far, it’s flown three types of aircraft

Aircraft types: Piper, Cessna, Saab

White Cessna Caravan aircraft with Mokulele Airlines livery parked on a taxiway with blue sky in the background

Photo: Mokulele Airlines

As Mokulele Airlines’ operations evolved since its founding, so have its fleet needs. Here is a rundown of the various aircraft operated by the carrier.

  • Piper Navajo Chieftain: Mokulele Flight Service commenced business with three of these aircraft. They were powered by twin Lycoming TIO-540 350-horsepower engines. The Navajo Chieftain variant had a seating capacity of up to 10 passengers.
  • Cessna 208B Grand Caravan EX: The carrier currently operates this Cessna aircraft, powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140 engine with 867 horsepower. The aircraft can seat nine passengers.
  • Saab 340B Plus: Mokulele Airlines’ parent company, Southern Airways Express, operates this aircraft on behalf of Mokulele for public charter flights. It is powered by two General Electric CT7-9B 1,870 shaft horsepower turboprop engines. The Saab 340B can accommodate up to 36 passengers.

Have you ever flown with Mokulele? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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