Monday, January 23, 2012

Feds OK Rockford airport's charters to London, Hawaii

ROCKFORD — Weekly nonstop charter flights offering low-cost service from Rockford to London and Honolulu have been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Charter World Solutions, doing business as Mokulele Tours, plans to make its inaugural flight from Honolulu International Airport to Chicago Rockford International Airport on Friday, April 13. It has scheduled its first departure to Honolulu on Sunday, April 15. It plans to continue a Friday arrival-Sunday departure schedule through August, according to its DOT filing.

Rockford-to-London flights are scheduled to begin Friday, May 4. Mokulele will make a return trip from England Sunday, May 6. It is planning departures from Rockford to London’s Stansted International Airport on Fridays through August, and return flights to Rockford on Sundays.

“This is just another step forward in the process to bring a new service option to Chicago Rockford International Airport,” said Bharat Puri, airport board chairman.

Mokulele will use a 218-passenger Boeing 767-200ER (extended range), leased from Air Transportation International of Little Rock, Ark., for the flights, according to the filing.

When both routes start, a flier in Honolulu could take a direct flight to London through Rockford, and vice versa, with the option of flying only half the route to the Chicago area.

“With one flight a week, we’re barely touching the market,” said Ron Hansen, owner of Mokulele Airlines, which provides small plane service in the Hawaiian Islands, and Charter World Solutions.

Hansen said tickets are likely to go on sale within a week.

Hansen was involved in proposed Air Plus charter flights from Rockford to Croatia and Serbia last summer. But the inaugural flight was canceled five minutes before takeoff last June by Swift Air, the company from which Air Plus leased the plane.

The cancellation came as the Federal Aviation Administration investigated training materials and qualifications of crew members at Swift Air.

Swift was fined $100,000 for canceling the flight. Air Plus, which sold more than 3,000 tickets, gave refunds to customers and was forced to cancel 13 scheduled round trips after Swift grounded its plane.

The Hawaii and London routes were made public on Dec. 15 when airport commissioners offered $1.4 million — $700,000 per route — in revenue guarantees for World Charter Solutions, to fly from Rockford to Honolulu and London for a year.

That figure represents the most the airport would have to pay if the routes turned out to be duds.

The airport also agreed to spend a maximum of $300,000 in marketing support for both routes to begin at least 60 days before the first flight. It has been waiting for the DOT approval to begin marketing the routes.

Zach Sundquist, passenger service development manager, said the airport likes to have a minimum of 90 days to market a new route. Under public charter rules ticket sales are held in escrow until the flight is completed so that in the event that a flight is canceled money can be refunded.

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