Should Hawaiian Airlines Replace Their Boeing 717’s With Airbus A220’s?

Hawaiian Airlines is currently battling against several issues. Southwest has recently launched flights to the island state, and if that wasn’t bad enough, is rumored to also be about to offer inter-island travel. In addition to that news, Hawaiian Airlines’ fleet of Boeing 717 aircraft (now at 18 years old, with the first delivered back in 2001) are starting to show their age. Will customers prefer to fly in the old 717s or the Southwest 737?

Should Hawaiian Airlines choose to replace their fleet of aging Boeing 717s? Photo: Simple Flying.

Or, is there a third option, Hawaiian Airlines replacing their fleet of 717s with something new like the A220?

Why does the Boeing 717 suit Hawaiian so well?

The Boeing 717 is light, fast and cheap. It’s lightness suits the aircraft, which will spend most of the day taking off from various small landing strips. It can be turned around on a dime and has the ability to land at smaller airports (many of the routes Hawaiian flies them on are 20-60 minutes long).

The engines are durable and withstand up to 16 takeoff and landing cycles per day, year in and year out, which Hawaiian uses to run up to 202 flights a day across their network.

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But despite being light and dynamic, the aircraft can still carry 128 passengers in a two-class configuration (120 economy and 8 in recliner first class).

A Hawaiian Airlines B717. Photo: Hawaiian Airlines

But the aircraft is now starting to get old, so it’s time Hawaiian looked at investing in a new ‘domestic’ fleet.

What about the Airbus A220?

In steps the A220-100. With a capacity of 135 passengers in a 3 – 2 configuration and the ability to land at short runways, the Canadian built aircraft by way of Alabama would be a perfect replacement for the Hawaiian Boeing 717 fleet. The plane is modern, featuring a better passenger environment, generous seats and a window in the lavatory.

The range on this aircraft is so good that it could actually double as a link to the US west coast, as well as distant regional islands. Whether or not passengers will want to fly on such a small plane over the vast Pacific remains to be seen, but they are doing a similar journey with Southwest, so anything is possible.

There is a concern that the aircraft is a bit heavy and would burn more fuel than the Boeing 717, but thanks to modern engine technologies, most of this can be averted.

What about the Embraer E2 series?

Some other commentators, like Jeff Setter at Boarding Area have suggested that the E2 would be a better fit than the A220.

The Embraer E195-E2
The Embraer E195-E2. Image Source: Embraer

Namely, with a bigger cargo carrying capacity, the E195-E2 would allow Hawaiian to operate more profitable routes (cargo is a huge profit driver for airlines). Whilst this is true, as we have shown before, the A220-100 ends up being the slightly better of the two.

Will this step of replacing their aging fleet be enough to beat off Southwest? Some industry experts seem to think so.

“Hawaiian is used to having people come in and out of their market all the time,” says Helane Becker, Managing Director, Industrials/Consumer-Airlines with Cowen. “They do a good job of responding. They have a strong balance sheet and they’re continuing to grow their operations, build out what they do, replace older aircraft with new, and deliver a really good product to their customers.”

What do you think, should Hawaiian order the A220 for inter-island flights?

  1. “There is a concern that the aircraft is a bit heavy and would burn more fuel than the Boeing 717, but thanks to modern engine technologies, most of this can be averted.”

    Do you have any links to support this statement? The A220’s are the most fuel efficient aircraft out there, here is a link:

    How a design from the 60’s can be more fuel efficient then a modern design is beyond me, but if you can provide a link to support this, I will check it out…

  2. The B717 Is the final refinement of the Douglas DC-9.
    In contrast to the 737 it has never suffered a hull loss.
    The engines are quite modern “German” Rolls – Royce.
    The aircraft is robust and easy to maintain. I think it’s fair to say that even 5 years ago this aircraft was marketable.
    If in fact the A220 can displace then that is high praise. However, at this time the power plant remains incompletely mature so in my personal opinion it is a bit soon to expect this.

  3. The Boeing 717 was originally designed by McDonnell-Douglas as the MD-95. It has an extraordinary safety record with no fatalities to date. The CSeries CS100/A220-100 is a more fuel-efficient aircraft of that size and could replace the 717, but the 717 is still a very fuel-efficient plane (BMW/Rolls-Royce turbofans). Both are reliable, extremely durable aircraft, the big difference is that the A220 is a medium-haul aircraft certified to cross the ocean from Hawaii to Los Angeles and serve other thinner routes to west-coast US cities. Hawaiian should refurbish and keep the 717 for inter-island flights and complement it with the A220-100 or A220-300, which can do both inter-island and medium-range flights to mainland USA.

    1. It’s a great idea what you suggest but I think the main issue with refurbishing the 717s is the cycles. Being Island hoppers, they rack up the cycles faster than usual and hence get “old” quickly. As far as I know, cycles can’t be refurbished. It’s a finite thing on the frame.

  4. Aloha! Island Miler here from Jeffsetter. Thanks for the shoutout! While I’d love to see the A220 in service for Hawaiian, it’s efficiency isn’t as important as people think. Intra-Hawaii flights are so short, cruising fuel efficiency doesn’t matter a whole lot. That’s not to say the efficiency isn’t important, but what is more important is weight. Because Hawaiian’s interisland aircraft spend so much of their time doing climb pits, the less the aircraft weigh, the less fuel you burn. And the A220 weighs 4,000lbs more than the E2; 14,000lbs more than the original E195. Plus, the importance of cargo to Hawaiian cannot be understated. It’s a HUGE profit maker for the airline. Plus they need to be able to carry plenty of large and odd sized baggage like surfboards and gold clubs. So I still think the E195 in either version is still the best choice.

    1. Size and comfort similarities between the A220-100 and the 717 can be attractive to passengers. Both have 5-across seating, with the A220 offering very wide economy seats (18.6 in). The E195-E2 is narrower and might influence the desirability of the aircraft among passengers. However, the E195-E2 is lighter and shares almost identical engines as the A220 and has certain advantages for maintenance, as it can do more cycles between A-checks and C-checks, while the A220 is likely much more expensive to buy but has an incredible lifespan (tested to a theoretical 180,000 cycles, I do not know the actual certification limit). Would Hawaiian consider a (less comfortable) Q400 or Q400CC (cargo combi) to replace the 717? Otherwise, the E195-E2 is ready to enter the market and needs a serious look.

      1. Having flown an E175 on Eagle, I’d be happy with it on short island hops. Plus the 2+2 seating could be a selling point to passengers too because the lack of a middle seat. As far as the Q400 goes, I don’t see that happening. For whatever reason, Hawaii residents tend to reject turboprop aircraft. Hence the failure of Mahalo Air, Island Air (though that one is more complicated), lack of real grow at Mokulele, etc. In fact, Island Air brought in Q400s at one point but returned them because they couldn’t fill them. They make a ton of sense for our market, but no one wants to fly them.

  5. I know the B717 well as Qantas flies them to many parts of Australia branded Qantaslink including the Sydney – Hobart service three time a day. Actually I think the origins of the 717 go back to the McDonnell Douglas DC9 in the early seventies.
    I have experienced the B717 on the HBA-SYD flight many times a year. They are fast, have a very high AoA, and because of the clean wing configuration they handle very nimbly. There are two ‘don’t sit here’ rules, one is in the last couple of rows where the engines are right beside your ears, and the other is the front few rows where the airflow noise can be deafening.

  6. I wouldn’t think south west will do well inter Island at all and think Hawaiian have this stitched up very well. As said operators come and go and this is their market

    1. You said it perfectly. Hawaiian is a well oiled machine for inter-island service. Other airlines have come, and well, don’t exist here anymore. Hawaiian has been operating in the islands for 90 years!! That says a lot!

  7. One of the main drivers for Hawaiian will be the engines. How will they hold up on such short flights with very little cool down. The engines powering the 717 are made for such an operating environment where there is very little cruising time. The A220 is gear towards flights with longer stage lengths that allow more time for the engines to cool a bit from take off. Unless Airbus can show Hawaiian that the A220’s engines can handle their interisland route system just as well as the 717, without excessive engine maintenance costs, the 717s will not be getting replaced anytime soon. If anything, Hawaiian may end up picking up used frames on the cheap from other airlines such as Delta as they take on A220s and start to shed 717s of their own.

    1. Exactly. But there will come a time when the 717s are no longer viable because of cycles. That time is creeping up quick for some of the oldest frames in the fleet too. So, we’ll see what happens. I don’t expect Hawaiian to really look into it until after the 787 is integrated into the fleet, though.

  8. Delta is not going to be shedding 717’s anytime soon. It still trying to phase out the MD-88 and MD-90s.
    I would suspect Delta might lease Hawaiians 717’s as stop gap to get the the 88’s and 90s out of its fleet faster. Of 156 Boeing 717’s in service Delta owns 90 of them.

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