Interisland To Intercontinental: The Rise Of Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines is the tenth-largest commercial airline in the United States, with its main hub at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii. Rising from a small inter-island service to one of the country’s most dependable carriers, Hawaiian Airlines now flies to over 30 destinations and continues to operate its inter-island service.

Hawaiian A330
Hawaiian Airlines grew from a small inter-island service to a celebrated international airline. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The airline has a fleet of 61 aircraft – 18 Airbus A321neos, 24 Airbus A330-200s, and 19 Boeing 717-200s. Hawaiian is celebrated for its many milestones over the decades. This includes the first all-female crew in US history (in 1979), the first certified air cargo carrier in the US (1942), and the oldest carrier in the country to record zero fatalities.

A history of Hawaiian Airlines

Founded in 1929 as Inter-Island Airways, Hawaiian began life as an island-hopping carrier, operating with two 8-seater Sikorsky S-38 amphibian aircraft and a Bellanca monoplane. The airline’s inaugural flight took place on November 11th, 1929, from Honolulu to Hilo.

By 1935, Hawaiian had bolstered its fleet considerably with the addition of 16 Sikorsky S-43 planes. It wasn’t until 1941 that the airline changed its name to Hawaiian Airlines in preparation for an expansion of its transpacific network. A year later, the airline became the first certified air cargo service in the US.

Interisland To Intercontinental: The Rise Of Hawaiian Airlines
One of Hawaiian’s first aircraft – a Bellanca Pacemaker. Photo: Locoscoutla via Wikimedia Commons

Hawaiian Airlines hit the milestone of almost 500,000 passengers carried in 1959 and eclipsed three million passengers annually in 1977. At the turn of the millennium, the airline invested heavily in new-generation Boeing (717-200 and 767-300ER) aircraft and expanded its international network, now flying to far-flung destinations like Sydney and Seoul.

Inter-Island Airways’ inaugural flight

Hawaiian’s inaugural flight was on November 11th, 1929 from Honolulu to Hilo, stopping off at Maui on the way. At the time, the flight took over three hours compared to today’s swift 50-minute trip with modern aircraft. Interestingly, passengers on this flight were given a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum to help them with ear pressure.

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Entering the jet age

By the 1960s, Hawaiian was carrying over half a million passengers each year as it moved into the jet age. The airline launched its first inter-island jet service in 1966 with its fleet of 85-seater DC‑9‑10s. Before long, it upgraded its fleet to the larger 130-seater DC‑9‑50.

Interisland To Intercontinental: The Rise Of Hawaiian Airlines
A Hawaiian Airlines DC-9 built in 1978. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

Hawaiian Airlines became the first Hawaii-based carrier to operate transpacific flights in 1985. In 1994, the first DC-10s arrived to take over from Hawaiian’s DC-8s. Less than a decade later, the airline invested in Boeing 717s and 767s which became the backbone of its fleet.

Modernizing the fleet

In 2017, Hawaiian Airlines received the first of 16 Airbus A321neos in a significant revamp of its fleet. Add this to a young fleet of Airbus A330-200s and Hawaiian can boast one of the newest fleets in the industry.

For its inter-island services, Hawaiian still relies on its old but trusty fleet of Boeing 717-200s. According to ch-aviation, these planes have an average age approaching 20 years. As Simple Flying explored, Hawaiian may go in for the Airbus A220-100 as a replacement.

Hawaiian Airbus A321neo
Hawaiian Airlines invested heavily in the Airbus A321neo. Photo: Airbus

The airline is also in for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, placing an order for 10 787-9s (and the option for 10 more) back in 2018. However, delays to the program mean Hawaiian isn’t expecting any deliveries until 2022 at the earliest.

How often have you flown with Hawaiian Airlines? What do you think of their service? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.