Hawaiian Airlines in April 2019 will launch what may be the farthest scheduled US domestic flight in history: the 4,427nm (8,200km) run between Honolulu and Boston.
No other carriers have ever served that route – at least according to Hawaiian and FlightGlobal Diio historical data – and few domestic routes could conceivably be longer.
But Hawaiian chief executive Peter Ingram describes the untested Boston route as a logical next step that reflects the growing strength of Hawaiian's brand on the US East Coast.
Boston is also among the largest untapped markets for Hawaiian, and the carrier could benefit from the strength there of codeshare partner JetBlue Airways.
"Boston has literally been part of the consideration since the time we launched our [New York] Kennedy service in 2012," Ingram tells FlightGlobal. "Since that time, we had the opportunity to build our brand here on the East Coast and established a relationship for connections with JetBlue."
"It’s the right time for the Boston flight," Ingram adds.
The route, which Hawaiian will serve five-times weekly starting 4 April 2019, eclipses the distance of the airline's current longest flight, its 4,403nm transpacific jaunt between Honolulu and Sydney.
Hawaiian has scheduled the outbound flight to Boston for 10h 15min, with the return leg clocking in at 11h 40min, according to Hawaiian's website. The company will serve the route using Airbus A330-200s.
Hawaiian's current long-haul routes in blue, the Honolulu-Boston route in red
Hawaiian spent much of the last 10 years acquiring a fleet of 24 A330s and using those aircraft to expand internationally – primarily to places westward across the Pacific. The company also has orders for 10 Boeing 787-9s, with deliveries scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2021.
The company's network has expanded to include flights from Honolulu to Auckland, Beijing, Brisbane, Seoul and several cities in Japan.
Hawaiian succeeded in capturing a hefty share of those markets, including 20% to 30% of seats from Honolulu to Australia, New Zealand and Japan, Ingram says.
But Hawaiian in recent months has pivoted in the other direction, targeting new markets to the mainland USA.
The US expansion kicked off late last year when Hawaiian acquired its first of 18 A321neos, which the company is using to expand into secondary markets between Hawaii and the US West Coast.
Hawaiian has already used A321neos to launch Maui-Portland, Maui-San Diego and Honolulu-Long Beach flights.
BOSTON TOPS THE LIST
The decision to serve Boston came after Hawaiian had ticked other top cities off its target list, says Ingram.
As a result, in recent years Boston "began bubbling to the top", he says.
The city holds promise largely because some 500 passengers already travel daily between the New England region and the Hawaiian Islands – more than between Hawaii and any other US city currently unserved by Hawaiian, Ingram says.
FlightGlobal schedules data confirms Hawaiian's figures, showing that an average of 556 people travelled daily by air between Hawaii and the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the first quarter of 2018.
"The core of demand for this route is going to be Boston and Boston-region-originated passengers," Ingram says.
Although many European airlines serve Boston, Ingram doubts Hawaiian will carry many passengers connecting to and from European flights, citing misaligned flight schedules.
Hawaiian's Boston flight will arrive and depart in morning, while transatlantic flights typically arrive and depart Boston in the evening.
"It's not something we would rely on," Ingram says of possible codeshares with European airlines.
But Hawaiian will look at expanding its existing codeshare with JetBlue to include JetBlue's flights at Boston.
JetBlue serves nearly 60 destinations from Boston and carried 27% of seats from the airport in 2017, more than any other airline, according to FlightGlobal schedules data.
"There are some interesting East Coast connecting opportunities," Ingram says. "We would look forward to opportunities to take advantage of the network [JetBlue has] been able to build in Boston."
Ingram dismisses the idea that Hawaiian's focus has fundamentally shifted from Asian growth to expanding eastbound in the USA, insisting Hawaiian still sees expansion opportunities in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
The airline just announced weeks ago that it will end its Beijing flight in October – exiting China entirely – but Ingram predicts Hawaiian will be back.
"In the future I absolutely think we will… make a go of it in China again," he says.
Ingram likewise expects that Hawaiian's pending joint venture with Japan Airlines (JAL) could lead Hawaiian to add flights to Japan.
"We fully anticipate there will be incremental opportunities in Japan springing from that," he says.
Hawaiian expects to close the joint venture with JAL by the second quarter of 2019.
In addition, Ingram says Hawaiian could add flights to cities it currently serves less than daily, such as Auckland, Brisbane and Seoul.
Source: Cirium Dashboard