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Behind-the-Scenes at “Hawai’i’s Hometown Airline” in Honolulu
An AvGeek couldn’t visit the Hawaiian Islands without thinking about the airline that carries the namesake of them, Hawaiian Airlines. Based in Honolulu on the island of O’ahu, the airline spans across the Pacific Ocean in all directions and now with the global pandemic finally calming down, the airline has begun to expand once again.
We had a chance to have an in-person interview with Alex Da Silva, the Director of Communications with Hawaiian Airlines, and ask him some burning questions regarding their operation.
AirlineGeeks (AG): Pilot shortages are hitting many airlines hard. Has Hawaiian Airlines felt this shortage, and if so, how are you dealing with it?
Alex Da Silva (ADS): We are targeting to hire 80-100 pilots in 2022. Despite the competitive landscape in hiring pilots, we are still seeing, for every pilot we hire, 7 times the number of applicants. Our location, fleet type, safety record, and company culture continue to allow us to attract pilots and we don’t anticipate any issues in meeting our staffing plan.
(AG): The Boeing 717 aircraft are getting up there in years. What are the airlines’ plans with these aircraft, is a replacement in order, or will you fly them as long as possible and refurbish them?
(ADS): We expect our 717s to be with us at least through the middle of this decade. Any 717 fleet replacement aircraft will depend on several factors including capabilities, performance, seat count, and operating and ownership costs. Our 717 provides us reliability, durability, and high density at 128 seats and remains a perfect aircraft for the Neighbor Island mission.
(AG): What aircraft are you looking into replacing them with?
(ADS): We are currently evaluating similarly sized narrowbody and regional aircraft but don’t have any frontrunners currently.
Hawaiian Airlines has shown that it can take care of its older aircraft and keep them running for many MANY years. Hawaiian’s first-ever aircraft, a 1929 Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker is still airworthy and resides with the airline at the Honolulu Intl. Airport and will occasionally fly around the island of O’ahu
(AG): When will the Boeing 787 be introduced into the Hawaiian fleet?
(ADS): We have pushed the delivery of our first two 787s from the end of 2022 to the first half of 2023. We have not finalized this timing with Boeing, but this is our planning assumption. We do not anticipate any changes to the aircraft deliveries for the rest of the orders with 3 in 2024, 3 in 2025, and 2 in 2026.
(AG): What routes will the Boeing 787 be introduced onto first?
(ADS): It will be flying to high-density and long-haul markets – routes where we can maximize its fuel efficiency, range, and seating capacity. We will also be rotating the aircraft through our U.S. mainland maintenance bases.
(AG): Is Europe a possibility with the 787?
(ADS): While the aircraft has the range, Europe is not part of our current 787-9 plans and we believe the aircraft will allow us to continue to grow within our existing Asia-Pacific and U.S. mainland footprint.
(AG): You stopped Ohana by Hawaiian during the pandemic, will you eventually look back into this once air travel recovers?
(ADS): While we continue to explore opportunities to return to Lāna‘i and Moloka‘i, and to reconnect all islands as Hawai‘i’s carrier, we don’t have any plans to resume service in the near future.
(AG): Does Hawaiian plan on partnering with Mokulele/Southern to access passengers in smaller inter-island destinations you don’t serve?
(ADS): When we ceased operations, we supported Mokulele Airlines by lending it some of our ground support equipment. We also considered possible partnerships but could not formulate a feasible arrangement.
(AG): Are there any other domestic or international destinations Hawaiian is looking into for the near future?
(ADS): We are excited by the response we’ve received in Austin, Orlando, and Ontario, California – three U.S. mainland markets nearing their one-year anniversaries. We are focused on maturing these new domestic markets and staying ready to resume more service in Japan and South Korea as border restrictions relax, and eventually returning to New Zealand.
We would like to note, that since this interview was conducted the airline has announced the date it plans on resuming service to Auckland, New Zealand. Flights to New Zealand will resume on July 2, 2022, and operate on a three times weekly basis using the Airbus A330.
(AG): What is your busiest route?
(ADS): By far, that would be Honolulu to Kahului. The route operates over 20-daily flights in each direction and is served by every aircraft in our fleet, Boeing 717, Airbus A321, and occasionally our Longhaul Airbus A330. Although all aircraft do fly the route, 98% of the time it’s on our inter-island workhorse, the Boeing 717.
(AG): Would you say that more tourists or locals fly inter-island on Hawaiian?
(ADS): I would say it’s a healthy mix. In the early mornings and late evenings, it tends to lean slightly more towards the locals that use us to commute between the islands for jobs, and through the middle part of the day, we do see slightly more tourists.
(AG): Hawai’i is known for its Aloha spirit and hospitality. How does Hawaiian Airlines incorporate this into not only your brand but for your onboard experience?
(ADS): As Hawai‘i’s hometown carrier, we are proud to connect people with aloha by welcoming our guests onboard our aircraft with our distinct and warm Hawaiian hospitality. Guests boarding our aircraft are surrounded by the sights, sounds, and tastes of the islands, from the soothing Hawaiian music we play during boarding and deplaning, to our complimentary, island-inspired meals, as well as exclusive Hawai‘i-made products and cabin designs that pay homage to our archipelago. Our employees, most of whom were born or raised in Hawai‘i, innately deliver our service with genuine aloha and excitement to introduce travelers to our islands.
While in Honolulu, AirlineGeeks also had the pleasure of touring the carrier’s maintenance base, led by the director of base maintenance Brian Kirkpatrick. We got to see some of the unique aspects of the Hawaiian maintenance operation. The airline does most of its maintenance, inspections, and cabin refurbishments in-house right in Honolulu.
Due to the climate and the Pacific Ocean, each aircraft has a special sealant over seams, bolts, and screws to add an extra layer of protection against the ocean spray and salty ocean air. This also keeps the maintenance costs down as they don’t have to replace items more often due to corrosion.
In addition to the cabin refurbishment, they also reupholster all the passenger seats at the base.
They check every part of the engine from top to bottom, including inspecting each individual engine blade for cracks and warps.
They also have a very unique aspect which I found interesting. When aircraft have the interiors taken out, the aircraft becomes very tail heavy meaning most of the weight is on the tail end of the aircraft. In order to get the now empty aircraft to not tip backward due to the weight of the engines and vertical stabilizer, they place two 850lbs cans on the front end of the aircraft which old the nose to the ground.
Being in the Hawaiian Islands, I had to take the obligatory photo with a Hawaiian Airlines plane showing the “peace out” or “Shaka” gesture which is commonly used in the islands.
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