US airline group Hawaiian Holdings is still searching for the profitability that has mostly eluded it since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic nearly four years ago. 

Its slow recovery is perhaps best represented by Hawaiian Airlines’ core international market of Japan, where air travel has yet to fully rebound from Covid-related travel restrictions. Hawaiian recently forfeited take-off and landing slots at Tokyo’s Haneda airport from Honolulu and Kona, citing unfavourable market conditions. 

Hawaiian’s bookings originating from Japan finished last year at about half of 2019 levels, the company said during its fourth-quarter earnings call on 30 January. 

“Japan traffic is improving, albeit more gradually than we would like,” says chief executive Peter Ingram. “There’s really nothing in terms of the international markets that rivals the importance of Japan to Hawaii – it is far and away the most significant source of international visitors to our state.” 

A330_STILL - Reef Runway Diamond head

Source: Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian is struggling in its core international market of Japan, which has been slow to re-embrace air travel following the Covid-19 pandemic 

Hawaiian’s woes in its top international market have been compounded by an unfavourable exchange rate for Japanese travellers and soaring hotel costs at home, among other factors. 

“We faced enormous external pressure in 2023, with Honolulu runway closures, Pratt & Whitney engine inspections, the Maui wildfires and intense competition in our core markets,” Ingram says. 

Hawaiian’s revenue was down nearly 8% in the fourth quarter, to $602 million from $651 million of revenue in the same period of 2022. Full-year revenue grew a modest 2.8% over 2022. 

Hawaiian lost $101 million during the fourth quarter of 2023, compared with a $50 million loss during equivalent prior-year period. 

For the full year of 2024, Hawaiian expects passenger capacity as measured in available seat miles (ASMs) to increase 6-9% year on year. 

Ingram expects the company to be spared from the worst of the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan (GTF) engine issues affecting Airbus A320 operators worldwide. P&W has recalled more than 1,000 of its PW1100G engines, requiring units to come off-wing for months-long inspections and repairs.  

Hawaiian forecasts that its GTF issues will ease after the first quarter, when it expects to receive a host of engines that have been undergoing overhauls for issues unrelated to the powdered metal defect that prompted P&W’s recall. 

Hawaiian has three Airbus A321neos parked in storage, according to Cirium fleets data.

The company expects delivery of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner within a matter of days, with plans to begin commercial flights in three months. 

It is also expanding Airbus A330 cargo operations with Amazon. The carrier currently operates one of the freighter-converted widebody jets and plans to add five more of the type by year’s end. 

Hawaiian expects its A330 cargo operations to become a positive financial contributor in the second half of the year. 

Company executives mostly refused to discuss Alaska Airlines’ $1 billion proposal to acquire Hawaiian, with the exception of Ingram adding, “We have immense confidence that we can compete on our own, but the acqusition by Alaska is an even better outcome.”