Billionaire Buys Island Air

First he bought an island. Then, billionaire Larry Ellison bought an airline company. As confirmed by both Ellison and Island Air, the deal secures the future of the company, which had been undergoing a restructuring for several months now.

Up until this announcement, Island Air left everyone hanging when it said the company made a deal with an “unnamed buyer.” That’s when the rumors of prospective buyers started, and everyone looked to Ellison, who had just bought Lanai.

Fortunately, the change of ownership will not cost Island Air employees their jobs. The company offers 224 weekly flights between Oahu, Maui, the Big Island, Kauai, Molokai and Lanai. This is comparably small-scale when considering the 160 daily flights Hawaiian Airlines offers to the major islands, as well as the mainland. Perhaps this change in ownership for Island Air will give it the boost it needed to compete with the state’s largest carrier and give travelers cheaper airfare options.

Like other locals, I’m a bit wary about these recent purchases. Lanai’s a small island, with a small population that’s remained somewhat “untouched” by development and tourism for decades. Granted, there are a few fancy resorts and restaurants. But overall, the island continues to thrive with a natural history and culture that we don’t often see on the other islands.

Increased access to Lanai via Island Air routes will no doubt be great for state tourism, but does that mean we sacrifice the only island that can still truly be called, “Old Hawaii?” It also begs the question of whether or not it will become the next Waikiki. I sure hope not. Ellison says he plans to mostly leave Lanai as is but does hope to turn it into a model of sustainable energy. That’d be awesome. But with Hawaii’s rough past (and present) involving development, you can’t blame me for saying: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher