Southwest is not ready to commit to Hawaii

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Southwest management appears to be non-committal on launching flights to Hawaii even as first deliveries of its extended twin engine operations (ETOPs)-equipped Boeing 737-800s begin in early 2012.

One of the major factors cited by Southwest during its deliberations of the -800 was the ETOPs ability that would allow the carrier to consider a destination like Hawaii.

But speaking during the International Aviation Forecast Summit hosted by the Boyd Group Southwest CEO Gary Kelly seemed to indicate flights to Hawaii were far from certain.

Kelly said realistically Southwest could launch flights to Hawaii in 2013. However, he stressed that whether the carrier ultimately operates in the market "is a different discussion".

Southwest has 20 firm -800s on order, but Kelly anticipates operating 75-100 of the type in the carrier's combined fleet with AirTran of roughly 700 aircraft.

Southwest closed on its acquisition of AirTran in May and since then has been intensely studying AirTran's schedule.

AirTran, which now operates as a Southwest subsidiary until the carriers combine operations, recently unveiled cuts to four smaller markets - Ashville, North Carolina; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Moline, Illinois; and Newport News, Virginia - that were unviable given current fuel prices.

Chronically high fuel costs pressured Southwest's second quarter earnings, said Kelly, who noted profits fell by 50%. He stressed the carrier "cannot continue" to operate in that manner.