Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines, which flies 9-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan single-engine aircraft, has ended its service to the Santa Maria Public Airport, citing a lack of passenger traffic. (Mokulele Airlines photo)

A small airline’s expansion from Hawaii to the mainland will include service between Santa Maria and Los Angeles starting in early October.

Mokulele Airlines will begin flights at the Santa Maria Public Airport on Thursday, starting up as United Airlines stops serving the northern Santa Barbara County community.

The new service kicks off with one flight a day through Oct. 9 while seeking approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Starting Oct. 10, the airline plans to provide four flights per day Mondays through Fridays, and three flights per day on weekends. 

“We think this is a good fit for Santa Maria because it’s a small regional (airline) that has room to grow,” General Manager Chris Hastert said.

United Airlines announced it would end United Express service between Santa Maria and San Francisco due to low passenger numbers. 

The new flights will take passengers to Terminal  6 at Los Angeles International Airport.

Mokulele has interline agreements with Alaska Air so passengers transferring to that airline can check their bags through. 

“We are extremely pleased with the amount of support we have received from the community and the airport,” said Mokulele President Rob McKinney. “Everyone in Santa Maria has been fantastic to work with.  We are planning to quickly become Santa Maria’s hometown airline.”

The planned merger between Alaska Air and Virgin America also could provide more opportunities for Santa Maria passengers, Hastert said.

Mokulele employs 9-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan single-engine airplanes, much smaller than the regional jets now used by United Express or the 19-passenger turboprop planes it previously used.

“If they don’t like small airplanes, we’re not looking to try to change their minds,” Hastert said, adding the company only needs to fill nine seats per flight. 

“Word of mouth, I think, will help as well. Once a few people use it and talk about how comfortable and nice it was going to L.A., I think that will help to change people’s minds as well,” Hastert said.

“It should be a nice flight,” he said of the approximately one-hour trip. 

Mokulele Airlines will use 9-passenger planes for its Santa Maria service.

Mokulele Airlines will use 9-passenger planes for its Santa Maria service. (Courtesy photo)

Introductory fares are $65 for one-way flights, but Hastert expects the rates will remain more affordable than those offered by United.

Airport officials recently conducted a survey about where local passengers want to fly. While results are still being compiled, he said, Los Angeles and Phoenix proved popular destinations. 

That was not a surprise due to lower airfares, better reliability and good connections to the East Coast.

Mokulele is a family owned and operated business based in Kona, Hawaii, and began in 1994 to give tours before becoming an “island hopper” to provide services in Hawaii. 

“They’ve grown as big as they can in Hawaii and they thought California would be the next logical spot,” Hastert said.

As an incentive, Santa Maria will offer free rent, free fuel flowage fees, and free landing fees for the first year, a standard package to attract a new airline to the city.

Santa Maria will be the second Californian airport Mokulele will serve since the airline already flies between Imperial-El Central airport and LAX.

“They had four aircraft that were coming off of contract on the East Coast that they were looking for a new home for, so everything kind of aligned perfectly,” he said.

Santa Maria hopes to become home to the airline’s West Coast maintenance hub and pilot training as Mokulele expands in the future in California.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.