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Southwest ‘close’ to ETOPS certification

Southwest Airlines says it is “close” to attaining extended twin-engine operations (ETOPS) certification for planned Hawaii service, even though it remains to be seen if the airline will be able to sell flights by year-end with weeks to go before 2018 wraps.

“ETOPS is close,” Southwest executive vice-president of daily operations Greg Wells tells FlightGlobal. The Dallas-based carrier is waiting on the US Federal Aviation Administration to review manuals, and is anticipating setting dates for tabletop exercises and validation flights, he adds.

It is not immediately clear when the flights will take place, with Wells calling it a “wild card”.

“The good news is that all the planning has gone superbly,” he adds.

Southwest had committed to selling Hawaii flights by end-2018, and the airline is still holding to that goal, says Wells. But he also acknowledges that this could slip into the first quarter of 2019.

“It’s a massive undertaking for us. It usually takes about 12- to 18-months, and we are at about a year,” adds Wells. Southwest first announced its intentions to serve Hawaii in October 2017.

The complexity associated with attaining ETOPS certification has delayed Hawaii service for other US carriers before. Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which no longer serves Hawaii, saw an about 18-month delay in starting its Hawaii service. The airline began the flights in June 2012, weeks after it said it had received ETOPS certification.

However, Allegiant’s ETOPS process also coincided with the airline adding Boeing 757s to its operating certificate for the Hawaii flights, which made Allegiant’s experience more complicated. Southwest, in comparison, has operated the Boeing 737 through its entire history. The airline has said it will begin Hawaii service with the 737-800, but that the 737 Max will eventually serve the market.

Southwest will operate to Hawaii from Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose, and will serve Honolulu, Lihue, Kona and Kahului. The airline has also said it will begin inter-island service with Hawaii, which will likely start months after flights launch from the US mainland.

Beyond the destinations, Southwest has not detailed exact routes and frequencies for its Hawaii service.

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