Isle airports have space for Southwest, state says
Hawaii is rolling out the red carpet for Southwest Airlines.
A state Department of Transportation official said Thursday the previous day’s announcement that Southwest would begin selling tickets to Hawaii next year “is already generating tremendous excitement,” DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara said.
“There is capacity at our airports to accommodate additional carriers,” he said. “We will work with the new airline to accommodate its logistical needs as it prepares to launch service next year. Adding a major airline to the Hawaii market will bring additional choices for residents and visitors and is anticipated to generate additional revenue for the state.” Southwest Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson said Wednesday that the Dallas-based carrier likely will begin service from just one city initially after obtaining ETOPS certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. That certification includes the airline making “proving runs” from the mainland to Hawaii so that the FAA can determine whether the company’s new airplane, the Boeing 737 MAX 8, is capable of operating and maintaining functions in case of an emergency while over water and more than two hours from land. “Usually with the FAA process you start off with one city and it allows the FAA to review your procedures and equipment and your people to make sure everything is done properly,” he said. “Once you have that authorization, you move to add extra cities and routes, and that would be our approach.” Watterson said “it would be natural for us to fly the majority of our flights from California” since the carrier is the largest airline in that state.
“For longer flights we tend to fly once or maybe twice a day,” he said. “For shorter flights, we’re known for having multiple frequencies.” Airline analyst Hunter Keay of New York-based
There is capacity at our airports to accommodate additional carriers.” Tim Sakahara Department of Transportation spokesman
Wolfe Research wrote in an Oct. 6 research note that using 30 prior Southwest route announcements and U.S. Department of Transportation data as a guide that he is guessing Southwest will launch six routes to Hawaii with once-daily service. His projected city pairings are Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and Phoenix to Honolulu and/or Maui. All six routes would overlap with Hawaiian Airlines, he wrote. But Keay, speculating ahead of Southwest’s announcement, wrote that he doesn’t see Southwest succeeding in Hawaii because — among several things — it lacks the on-board products to compete in Hawaii against airlines that are larger and offer a full-service option for higher income Hawaii vacationers. He also said Southwest’s “bags fly free” policy could create turnaround time headaches since an estimated 68 percent of passengers to Hawaii check bags, and that there could be potential service problems if bags are lost. He also said there could be lots of passengers redeeming frequent flier points to travel to Hawaii, which could disrupt Southwest’s pricing.
“It’s perhaps safe to say (Southwest) may grow there initially and not grow too much thereafter, if history is a guide,” he wrote. “We believe (Southwest) will disrupt (Hawaiian Airlines) for a short period of time before pulling back or even abandoning service to Hawaii altogether after failing to gain traction there.” Southwest’s stock rose 26 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $58.81 on Thursday. Shares of Hawaiian Airlines, which will be facing added competition, fell $1, or $2.50, to $39.
Before Southwest’s announcement that it would begin Hawaii service, an analyst had predicted the carrier would offer six daily flights to the islands, but might eventually retrench after failing to gain traction in the market. Above, a model of the plane Southwest would fly to Hawaii was displayed at its Wednesday event.