Hawaiian Airlines insists it has the market presence needed to hold its own against newcomer Southwest Airlines on intra-Hawaii routes.
And Southwest somewhat concedes the point, but thinks it has a recipe that works in Hawaii.
"Hawaiian is the hometown carrier. I think we will always be second fiddle to them, as far as the local presence," Southwest's chief revenue officer Andrew Watterson tells FlightGlobal.
At the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Las Vegas on 26 August, Watterson and Hawaiian's chief executive Peter Ingram addressed the market battle brewing in the island state, where Southwest recently made its first appearance.
Southwest began Hawaii flights in March.
But unlike most other US airlines, Southwest not only flies to Hawaii from the US mainland. The Dallas-based airline also flies a small but expanding network of routes within Hawaii. – a market deeply personal to hometown carrier Hawaiian.
For now, Southwest's intra-island network consists only of flights from Honolulu to both Kahului and Kona. But in January 2020 Southwest intends to begin flights from Honolulu to both Lihue and Hilo, and from Kona to Kahului, for 34 daily intra-island flights.
Asked about Southwest's encroachment, Hawaiian's Ingram ticked off reasons he feels confident his Honlulu-based airline can compete,
Hawaiian has faced intra-island competitors for decades, Ingram notes. Those have included large operators like Aloha Airlines, which long since ceased operations, and recently defunct Island Air.
Ingram cites "the depth and breadth" of Hawaiian's intra-island network, which it operates primarily using a fleet of 20 Boeing 717s.
Those aircraft are perfectly suited for short hops between islands, Ingram says. Hawaiian serves some routes 25 times daily, each way, schedules show.
The 717s serve locally-bound passengers and also feed Hawaiian's Honolulu hub, from where it flies to the US mainland, South Pacific and Asia.
"We've got the incredible depth and breadth of our schedule throughout the day. We help support the local demand… with our connecting demand," Ingram says. "All those things position us very well to compete."
Southwest's Watterson concedes Southwest's leading position but insists room exists for both competitors.
Watterson describes Southwest's intra-island flights as helping bolster its routes from the US mainland. Southwest may adjust flying seasonally, he adds. For instance, the carrier could theoretically operate a route like San Diego-Kona during the busy season, then serve Kona via a stop in Honolulu during slower months.
The 737-800s Southwest operates on intra-Hawaii routes have more seats than Hawaiian's 717s – 47 more, according to Cirium fleets data.
But Watterson thinks Southwest can sell enough seats to keep its aircraft full.
"Right now, we can fill it," he says, adding that Southwest is still charging introductory fares. "It seems to work well for us."