Airline services to and within the Hawaiian Islands are set for major upheaval as Southwest, which starts services next year, signals that it is looking at more than mainland US flights to the holiday islands.
Add to the mix the final withdrawal of ultra-low fare Allegiant which stopped its last Boeing 757 flights in October, and the demise of Island Air there are the ingredients for a fascinating competitive cocktail.
Southwest Airlines will use 737 MAX 8s on routes to Hawaii and tickets will go on sale early next year, although no dates have been set yet on when flights might begin, or on what specific routes.
The 737-MAX8 has a nonstop range of 3,515 nautical mile / 6,510-kilometer range, which puts cities in the western U.S. as far away as Denver within range of the islands.
Before flights can begin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has to give the go-ahead for Southwest’s LEAP 1B-powered aircraft to ply the long overwater ETOPs (extended operations) routes.
Southwest Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly says, “Hawaii is an important place for Southwest Airlines because so many people count on us to take them everywhere they want to go reliably and affordable. We’re ready and excited to address a request we’ve heard for years.”
On the inter-island services, no final decisions have been made according to Mr Kelly.
“Step one, of course, is getting from California to Hawaii,” Kelly said in a conference call with media and investors in October. “It [Inter-island service] has been down our priority list, but we will have serious consideration of that.”
Southwest is the master of short flights and quick turn times – perfect for the inter-island flights and operating these flights would greatly strengthen the airline’s appeal.
But Southwest will have plenty of competition from existing carriers.
The Big Three legacy carriers—United, America, and Delta all have well-established service to Hawaii from their hub cities.
United has been operating Mainline – Hawaii flights for 70 years and this past summer it upped the ante to 40 daily nonstops.
Resurgent Hawaiian Airlines flies nonstop to 11 U.S. gateway cities, relying heavily on Honolulu as both an O&D (origin and destination) and a connection point for the state’s ‘Neighbor Islands.’
Also making a strong bid for largely leisure business is Alaska Airlines, which operates ETOPs-certified Boeing 737NGs (next generation) aircraft from the West Coast to Hawaii.
How long all of these airlines can continue to co-exist and make money flying from the Mainland to the islands is very much up in the air, especially given Hawaii’s history.
In February 2000, Aloha began Mainland flying, helping pioneer the use of ETOPs-certified Boeing 737-700s from Honolulu, Kahului and Kona to a number of West Coast cities. Fuel prices, the September 11th attacks and SARS worked in concert to prompt Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2004. Aloha emerged from Chapter 11 protection in 2006, only to re-enter it two years later. This time the culprit was a withering fare war.