Hawaiian Airlines Eyes A Reboot Of Its International Network

Honolulu-based Hawaiian Airlines has enjoyed a strong rebound in domestic flying since mid-year, but its international network continues to stagnate. Until recently, international arrivals into Hawaii were running at less than 5% of 2019 levels. That’s since doubled, but there remains a long way to go. Despite this, the Hawaiian Airlines CEO is optimistic better days are not so far away.

Hawaiian’s international flying remains in the doldrums but is expected to significantly improve in the first half of 2022. Photo: Hawaiian Airlines

“International did not mirror our domestic demand recovery,” Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram told the CAPA conference in Sydney on Tuesday. “International travel to Hawaii dropped off very rapidly in 2020 and flatlined at less than 5% of what it was before the pandemic, and we are now only marginally above that level.”

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Hawaiian’s international network quick to shut down, slow to get back on track

Back when Hawaiian was flying its fleet of Airbus A330-200s around the Pacific, the airline’s international network reached into South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa, Tahiti, and multiple cities in Japan.

“We entered 2020 in a really strong position after several years of strong profitability,” Mr Ingram said. But in the space of six weeks across early 2020, almost all of Hawaiian’s international network shut down. The state of Hawaii also imposed some of the toughest border controls and quarantine measures in the United States.

While entry rules into Hawaii have since relaxed, strict travel policies in most of the countries Hawaiian Airlines flew to remain in place, although that’s starting to change.

“We are starting to see the beginning of that policy evolution that we hope will position us for a substantial recovery in 2022 – but we are still in the early stages of that,” noted Mr Ingram.

Hawaiian Airlines President & CEO Peter Ingram. Photo: Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines returns to Sydney next week with high hopes

Currently, Hawaiian is flying into South Korea and Japan (Osaka and Tokyo) a couple of times a week. But Hawaiian’s CEO is counting on restoring pre-pandemic levels of flights back into these markets soon.

And Peter Ingram is excited about resuming flights into Sydney next week. After suspending flights in March 2020, Hawaiian is back on the Honolulu – Sydney run five times a week from December 15.

“It’ll be great to get our planes back to Sydney and be able to bring guests from Australia here to Hawaii again. We hope that’s a harbinger of further growth in the international markets and policy change as we move forward.”

Mr Ingram says he’s encouraged by bookings on the Sydney flights. They’re not full in the early days, but there is decent pickup through to January. He notes Hawaiian was initially looking at just three return flights a week but settled on five.

Fully vaccinated Australians are welcome to land in the US these days. Australia is yet to return the favor but should do so in the first quarter of 2022.

Still off the schedules are flights to Hawaiian’s previous ports of Brisbane and Auckland. Also absent from the schedules are flights to the Japanese ports of Tokyo Haneda, Sapporo, and Fukuoka.

Hawaiian Airlines expects the first Dreamliners to start landing towards the end of next year. Photo: Boeing

Hawaiian’s first Dreamliner expected in about 12 months’ time

Beyond the immediate term, also sparking interest at Hawaiian Airlines is the imminent arrival of its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. The airline has ten on order with an eye to using them on longer domestic flights before deploying them onto long-haul international routes.

After earlier delays and pushbacks, Peter Ingram confirmed on Tuesday that the first Dreamliners would start touching down in Honolulu in around 12 months’ time.

“We’re going to be rapidly preparing for the arrival of the 787 into our fleet around the tail end of next year or early part of 2023,” said Hawaiian’s CEO.