US low-cost giant Southwest Airlines will begin sales for Hawaii flights in 2018, and will serve the popular leisure destination from California.

The Dallas-based airline will embark on a process to gain extended twin-engine operations (ETOPS) approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration. It will initially operate ETOPS-equipped Boeing 737-800s to Hawaii, before switching to the 737 Max 8 which it placed into revenue service earlier this month.

"The Max will be our Hawaii aircraft but, we’ll start with our ETOPS-equipped -800 fleet to accelerate our service launch date," says Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly. "The rest of the work is lined up to bring the performance enhancements of the Max to what we intend to build into a multi-market offering among our West Coast cities and the Hawaiian Islands."

The airline does not specify routes, but Kelly says nonstop Hawaii service will begin from California.

Southwest will become the sixth US airline serving Hawaii from the contiguous USA, FlightGlobal schedules data show. Currently, seven airlines operate in the market, but this will reduce to five before Southwest begins service. Allegiant Air will exit Hawaii later this year, while Alaska Airlines will take over Virgin America's flights in April 2018.

Southwest says its capacity plans for 2018 remain unchanged with the Hawaii announcement.

It has said its capacity growth in 2018 will be less than the 5.7% year-over-year capacity growth it reported for 2016. The airline plans to grow capacity by less than 4% in the first half of 2018.

Southwest has long spoken of plans to begin flights to Hawaii, making it clear that it was only a matter of when, not if, they serve the destination.

Source: Cirium Dashboard