Key access to Tokyo's Haneda airport and new service to Seoul are cornerstones of Hawaiian Airlines' new strategic push into Asia, and the carrier is poised to further expand in the region.
Hawaiian is one of three US airlines that received approval from regulators to launch flights to Haneda. The rights were negotiated during the US-Japan Open Skies agreement, concluded in December 2009. Delta got the nod for flights from Los Angeles and Detroit, while American secured rights to serve New York-Haneda.
Now that regulators have finalised their endorsement of Hawaiian's new flights to Tokyo, the carrier is busy working through the remaining regulatory processes to inaugurate service during the fourth quarter, followed by new flights to Seoul in the first quarter of 2011.
Hawaiian chief executive Mark Dunkerley explains each market presents a prime opportunity to build its presence in Asia's dynamic market. The Japanese-Hawaiian market fetches roughly two million passengers a year, he says.Recent cuts by JAL could have triggered a 20% capacity decrease in the market, but Dunkerley says the new service by Hawaiian and a bit of backfilling by other carries should result in a less significant drop in capacity.
Access to Haneda gives Hawaiian a key competitive edge in the Japan-Hawaii market that Dunkerley has previously characterised as mature, with roughly a dozen widebody flights per day. He also highlights the appeal of Haneda's more central location.
Seoul's attractiveness lies in South Korea's particularly robust economic rebound, says Dunkerley. Coupling that with South Korea's participation in the US Visa Waiver programme makes the country compelling, he says.
Tokyo and Seoul are part of Hawaiian's strategy to bolster its presence in Asia over the long-term and provide Hawaiian with a canvas for that growth, says Dunkerley. The range of its newly arriving Airbus A330s will allow Hawaiian to exploit more opportunities in Asia. It is initially serving Tokyo and Seoul with Boeing 767-300ERs. And while the current focus is building up Seoul and Tokyo, Hawaiian could introduce another Asian destination in a year to 18 months, he says.
Meanwhile, some US carriers are restoring capacity to Hawaii from the US West Coast, including new Alaska Airlines and Continental flights, and frequencies added in some of Hawaiian's markets. But Dunkerley says capacity from the mainland still remains below 2008 levels, and is unconcerned about the new flights. He recently told investors Hawaiian competes "with virtually all of the major airlines tooth and nail across the Pacific and at the same time we do carry a lot of their connecting customers within the islands of the state. So we have this sort of curious relationship with our major competitors."