- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaiian Airlines on Friday secured the right to begin flying nonstop between Tokyo and Kailua-Kona, bringing a regularly scheduled direct flight from Japan to the Big Island for the first time since 2010.

The news came as the U.S. Department of Transportation said it awarded a new nighttime departure slot at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport to Hawaiian.

Hawaiian plans to use the slot to fly to Kona three times a week and to Honolulu the other four times. The airline already flies between Haneda and Honolulu.

Big Island business leaders immediately welcomed the news.

“This is a huge deal for our community. We’re just elated,” said Kirstin Kahaloa, executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.

She predicted gains for the visitor industry, retail stores, restaurants and ocean recreation businesses, among others. Tourism is the biggest industry on the west side of the island so industry growth supports everybody, she said.

Kahaloa said the community has been hurting since Japan Airlines stopped flying from Tokyo’s Narita airport to Kailua-Kona in 2010. Japan Airlines had maintained the route for 14 years but stopped it amid a round of corporate restructuring.

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said the company anticipates launching service between late October and late January.

Hawaiian estimates the Kona route will generate $35 million a year in visitor spending and $12.5 million in wages and benefits.

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said he was thrilled by the announcement. He said local agriculture and aquaculture would also benefit as the Hawaiian plane will carry cargo as well as passengers, allowing farmers to send goods to Japan more quickly.

“These products no longer have to be sent to Honolulu before being flown to Japan,” Kenoi said in a statement. “This increases freshness and reduces cost.”

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said the announcement was the result of a recently finalized agreement between the U.S. and Japan expanding the number of flights between Haneda and the U.S. to six from four.

Hawaiian plans to fly an Airbus A330 aircraft, which seats 294 passengers, on the route.

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