How Hawaiian Airlines Flies Short Range Boeing 717s Across The Pacific

Yesterday we reported on the mass exodus from Hawaii of many of Hawaiian Airlines’ planes ahead of Hurricane Douglas. The airline’s Airbus A330s and A321s headed off to the west coast of the US to rest their wings safely.

Hawaiian Airlines 717
How does Hawaiian get its short-range Boeing 717s back to the mainland? Photo: Hawaiian Airlines

However, its fleet of 18 Boeing 717s, which the airline uses extensively on its inter-island services, were unable to make the trip due to lack of range. As such, they were stored safely in Kona, where the storm was predicted to be less severe.

But what about when these aircraft do need to get back to the mainland, for example, for maintenance checks? And how were they delivered in the first place? We thought we’d take a look at the interesting solution for ferrying short-range Boeing 717s such a long way across the Pacific.

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A very Pacific problem

Short-range aircraft are frequently delivered across the Atlantic with no problem at all. Small Airbus and Boeing aircraft make the trip, thanks to the very easterly port of St Johns in Canada and the part-way placement of Keflavik in Iceland. Greenland is also en route, and Irish airports there to receive the plane on the other side.

transatlantic waypoints
Flying transatlantic has plenty of options for diversions on the way. Image: GCMap

However, going across the other ocean, the Pacific, does not provide so many places to stop off. Flying from the US to Asia in a smaller plane is fraught with difficulties, so much so, pilots will often choose to go the long way around and fly across Europe to complete the delivery.

This is not an option when delivering aircraft to Hawaii. AvGeekery describes this as “one of the hardest places to make an aircraft delivery” because there is no alternative airport between the coast of the USA and the island itself.

SFO to Hilo
SFO to Hilo has no stops on the way! Image: GCMap

The shortest distance from mainland US to Hawaii is from San Francisco to Hilo. It’s over 2,300 miles, and there’s nothing in between the two waypoints but the big blue sea. This makes ferrying the Boeing 717 back to the mainland something of a challenge for Hawaiian Airlines.

How do they do it?

The range of the 717 is published at 1,647 miles. With no passengers or bags on board, this would likely be extended a little. However, it’s cutting it very fine, and strong headwinds or unexpected issues could leave the pilots in a sticky situation.

Hawaiian could ferry them to the mainland by sea, but they’re a bit too big to travel by barge in one piece. Plus, this would take a very long time, and it wouldn’t be practical to have the 717 out of action for so long.

Hawaiian has come up with a novel solution for getting the 717s back to the mainland. Photo: Hawaiian Airlines

As such, Hawaiian came up with a novel solution. To ferry the 717s for painting, maintenance, or other reasons, they install temporary extra fuel tanks onboard. These are installed in the passenger compartment of the 717, requiring seats to be removed for the journey. With these onboard, the trip can be undertaken with no concerns.

Of course, if Hawaiian decides to replace its aging 717s with the versatile Airbus A220, the whole problem would go away.