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Let's Go! to Hawaii

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Mesa decided to take a shot at competing in Hawaiian interisland flying after both Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines filed for bankruptcy. It wasn’t Mesa’s first time to look into investment in Hawaii; back in 1990, Larry Risley looked into purchasing Discovery Airways, but he changed his mind. He didn't want to take on the hassles associated with the four-engine BAe-146 jets operated by Discovery. Jonathan Ornstein felt the opportunities in Hawaii were much better in 2005.

On April 1, 2006, Mesa started Go! Airlines which used the Mesa Airlines operating certificate with five CRJ-200s painted in a very fancy (and expensive) paint job with a blue wave on the side. Mesa started interisland travel and immediately a fare war sprung up which would eventually drive the fares as low as $9 for a one-way ticket. No sooner did Mesa start Go! Airlines, both Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines separately filed lawsuits claiming when Mesa developed the Go! concept, they used proprietary information obtained from both Hawaiian and Aloha. Mesa was embroiled in legal actions with the two Hawaiian carriers the entire time they operated in Hawaii.

Mesa partnered with Mokulele Airlines, who provided feeder service to Go! with their Cessna Grand Caravans as Go! Express. Then in 2009, when Mokulele was experiencing financial problems, they were bought out by Republic Holdings. Mesa promptly canceled the codeshare after the Republic buyout, but then Republic used its subsidiary, Shuttle America, to put two Embraer 170 aircraft into Hawaii as Mokulele Airlines to compete directly with Go!. Realizing the two could not survive together, Mesa and Republic entered into negotiations and agreed to a merger of the two airlines with Mesa owning 75% of the merged company and Mokulele/Republic a 25% share. Republic agreed to remove the Embraers from Hawaii, in return Mesa would rebrand their CRJ airplanes with both the Go! and Mokulele names.

Jonathan held on to Go!/Mokulele even during their bankruptcy, because there was hope that if Aloha folded, Mesa would get a codeshare deal with United Airlines. Eventually, Mesa lost the lawsuit with Hawaiian and ended up owing over $50 million dollars. Mesa settled the Aloha lawsuit with the remaining majority investor, because Aloha had folded. As part of the Aloha settlement, Mesa ended up purchasing the rights to the Aloha name, but a bankruptcy judge blocked Mesa’s use of the name.

In 2008, there was a highly publicized incident where both Go! pilots fell asleep on a flight and it overflew it destination. I have more specific details on that incident in my book. Mesa ended the Go! operation on April 1, 2014. That was basically the end of CRJ-200 flying for Mesa.

Three Go! airplanes parked on the ramp in Honolulu next to Aloha.

The crew for the Go! proving runs (Photo courtesy of Zak Khogyani)

Mokulele Grand Caravan in Go! Express paint.

Republic holdings bought out Mokulele and had their subsidiary, Shuttle America, move two Embraer E-170s into Hawaii to compete directly with Go!

The two companies worked out a merger agreement where Mesa would own 75% of the company and Mokulele the other 25%. The Mokulele name was added to the side of the Go! airplanes and the Embraers were removed from Hawaii.

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