The ongoing partial shutdown of the U.S. government might delay the launch of Southwest Airlines’ flights to Hawaii. The airline will not be able to obtain the required certification until FAA employees return to work.
Southwest Airlines Service to Hawaii
According to Southwest’s website, the airline is planning on offering nonstop service to four islands in Hawaii (Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and Island of Hawaii). It will serve these destinations from four cities in California including Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Jose.
The website also states that these routes are “not yet available for purchase” and “subject to required government approvals.”
Exactly therein lies the problem.
Flights from California to Hawaii are conducted over water without airports close by. Federal Aviation Regulations require airlines to obtain ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) certification before they can operate twin-engine aircraft on such routes. Accordingly, Southwest Airlines must obtain this specific approval before it can launch its 737 flights to and from Hawaii.
What exactly is ETOPS? As explained by Simple Flying, ETOPS is essentially a certification that allows twin-engine aircraft “to fly more than 60 minutes away from the nearest airport” which is suitable for an emergency landing.
Due to the nature of its current routes, Southwest Airlines did not need to obtain approval in the past. However, during the Hawaii flights over the Pacific, Southwest’s Boeing 737s will be more than an hour away from the nearest airport for quite some time.
Generally, ETOPS approvals are a lengthy and involved process. They usually take one year or more to complete. However, Southwest Airlines started the process months ago and is very close to completion.
According to the Chicago Business Journal, Southwest’s COO Mike Van de Ven announced back in December that the airline’s ETOPS procedures and manuals had been approved by the FAA. Nonetheless, Southwest will still have to complete the “formal tabletop exercise” and the “validation flights.” Unfortunately, both these steps require the participation of FAA inspectors.
Due to the partial U.S. government shutdown, almost 18,000 non-essential employees of the Federal Aviation Administration have been furloughed. This furlough includes FAA inspectors, and exactly these are required to complete the ETOPS certification. Consequently, Southwest Airlines’ ETOPS certification process has been put on hold until the shutdown is over.
As of today, there is no end in sight though.
Southwest Airlines has not announced an official start date for its Hawaii flights. There has been speculation that the flights were set to commence in March or April. The airline indicated on Twitter yesterday that it was “still ironing out the kinks on travel to Hawaii, but [hoped] to be saying Aloha (…) real soon!”
At this time, however, it seems that there is a reasonably good chance that Southwest will have to delay the flights beyond March or April.
Are you going to take advantage of Southwest Airlines’ new service to Hawaii?