Hawaiian Airlines is confident that the Airbus A321neo will be certificated for extended overwater flights between Hawaii and the US west coast, breaking with other airlines' views on the capabilities of the type.
"A prerequisite is that the aircraft can fly the missions that we're interested in and we're confident that this aircraft can," says Mark Dunkerley, chief executive of the Honolulu-based carrier. He declines to comment on what guarantees Airbus has provided to instil such confidence.
The shortest stage length for the aircraft would be about 2,080nm (3,850km) from Honolulu to the San Francisco bay area, all of which is over water. Other airlines serve the route with a variety of Boeing aircraft, including 737-700, 737-800 and 757 narrowbodies. Hawaiian lists the A321neo's range as up to 3,650nm.
No Airbus narrowbodies fly regularly scheduled services between the US mainland and Hawaii.
Andrew Nocela, senior vice-president of marketing at US Airways, told Flightglobal in March that it doubted that the A321neo had the range to reach Europe or Hawaii from cities on the US mainland, based on its internal analysis.
US Airways flies to Hawaii from Phoenix, which requires additional fuel due to the heat during the local summer. Flights to airports in California would not be subject to similar restrictions.
Dunkerley says that Hawaiian plans to use A321neos to open up new routes between Hilo, Kona and Lihue and cities on the US west coast that are served by competitors. He adds that the airline might look at new markets to serve from Honolulu but notes that this would depend on market developments during the next five years.
"We think that this aircraft will enable us to open up some markets that we currently cannot access because our aircraft are too big," says Dunkerley.
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines serve the three aforementioned cities to destinations along the US west coast.
Dunkerley says that Hawaiian plans to run a competition to select an engine supplier with a decision likely before the end of the second quarter. CFM International's Leap-1A and the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G are available for the A321neo.
The airline announced a memorandum of understanding with Airbus for a potential order for 16 A321neos and purchase rights for an additional nine aircraft on 7 January.
Dunkerley says that Hawaiian is unlikely to add orders for the smaller A320neo or A319neo for "trans-Pacific operation", citing the fact that the A321neo has the lowest per seat mile costs of the three. He did not indicate whether the variants would be considered as a future replacement for the carrier's Boeing 717-200 fleet, which it uses on inter-island routes.
"We think that the 717 is a fantastic airplane," says Dunkerley. "We're in no hurry to see it go." He adds that the airline would look at whether to replace the aircraft or extend their life towards the "end of the decade".