That’s right! Southwest is test flying a 737 on the proposed new route from Oakland to Honolulu today.
This is part of the FAA evaluation process regarding ETOPS, Extended Range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards, or in plain terms, can the Southwest jet and its crew make it across the Pacific with no problems.
“We can confirm that Southwest is slated to perform a long-range navigation and communication validation flight from Oakland to Honolulu on Tuesday, February 5, barring any unforeseen changes” – Southwest Spokesperson to SFGate
What are the details?
The exact time of the test has not been revealed to the general public yet, but the plane is expected to leave sometime today from Oakland and fly five hours to Hawaii.
The flight test will be performed by a Southwest 737, and will only have Southwest pilots and FAA inspectors on board. The test will be looking at how the crew handle navigation, their training, stay alert over long durations and communication during the trip.
As this is one of the longest distances performed by a twin-engine aircraft with no airports in range or even land underneath, extra care is given to the certification process to ensure nothing can go wrong.
In the past, only planes with four engines were given clearance to fly across the Pacific, as the FAA believed that it would be unlikely for all four engines to fail. This is the main driver for the creation of the Boeing 747 and the fuel-hungry Airbus A340. But advancements in engine design and fuel efficiency have allowed the FAA to consider twin engines as a viable aircraft.
When will Hawaii Southwest flights go on sale?
Unfortunately, this test is yet another step in a long line of ETOPS requirements before Southwest can carry paying passengers. Next up will be more testing (such as flying back to the mainland, we expect Southwest to test each round trip for all four routes) and more paper pushing.
The overall process can take 12-18 months to complete. Currently, Southwest is over a year into the certification process. One of the major delays was the US Government shutdown. With not FAA inspectors at work apart from essential safety services, Southwest was unable to have the route authorized before the end of last year.
However, Southwest managed to hire an FAA inspector for a few hours to release four new aircraft into their fleet.
But other publications are rumoring that Southwest intends to have tickets for sale in March, and start actual services very soon after.
“Once we pass all phases of the ETOPS application process to the satisfaction of the FAA and receive our ETOPS authorization, we will announce further details of timing for selling and operating flights.” – Southwest Spokesperson to SFGate
What do you think, are you excited to fly on Southwest to Hawaii?