Now that Southwest Airlines has confirmed its intentions to start flying to Hawaii, probably in 2018, there are new reports that the carrier might initiate inter-island service there as well.
Southwest plans to use its new Boeing 737MAX aircraft — which have a longer range than earlier versions of the single-aisle plane — to begin flights from the West Coast. But the company also reportedly sees considerable market potential for flights between the islands. That would give new competition to Hawaiian Airlines (which is due to begin its own narrow-body service from the West Coast in January, using new Airbus A321neos to replace twin-aisle A330s and 767s).
There’s certainly room for some competition on inter-island routes. A quick look at an airline schedule guide shows that Hawaiian is the only listed jet operator on routes from Honolulu to Hilo and Kona on the Big Island, to Kahului on Maui, to Lihue on Kauai, and to Lanai. Hawaiian uses 123-passenger 717s on inter-island routes.
There has been a little competition from Island Air, which has just three turboprops, but that company filed for bankruptcy last month. And Kona-based Mokulele Airlines has a number of flights, but with nine-passenger single-engine Cessnas.
Hawaii is the only state where travel between major cities requires an airplane (boats take too long, and there are no bridges). And a lot of people take those trips.
Only about 30 percent of passengers on inter-island flights are connecting from long-haul service to Hawaii, and the traffic on those intrastate routes is considerable: e.g., more than a million passengers a year between Honolulu and Maui – or 40 percent more than on the crowded Boston Logan-New York LaGuardia route.
One deterrent for Southwest could be the size of its 737s and whether there is sufficient demand to keep them operating full enough and frequently enough to turn a profit. SFGate.com has a good analysis of Southwest’s potential inter-island incursion.
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