Southwest Airlines will conduct a validation flight to Hawaii this week, as it continues to work towards certification to begin passenger service to the islands.

The Dallas-based carrier plans to operate a "long-range navigation and communication validation flight" between Oakland and Honolulu with a Boeing 737-800 on 5 February, it tells FlightGlobal. The flight follows completion of long-range navigation tabletop exercises, it adds.

The exercises and validation flight are part of the US Federal Aviation Administration's required extended twin-engine operations (ETOPS) certification, something Southwest needs before it can begin scheduled service to Hawaii.

Southwest began the ETOPS certification process in early 2018 with an aim of beginning ticket sales by year-end. That target has slipped into this year and was further delayed by the partial US government shutdown that ended in January.

The airline plans to offer flights between Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose, and Honolulu, Kahului, Kona and Lihue when service begins.

Following a successful validation flight, Southwest must conduct tabletop exercises of its full ETOPS procedures and then conduct more validation flights before the FAA will authorise it to begin Hawaii flights, the airline says.

"Our staff is ready, our procedures are ready, our gates are ready, our equipment is ready," said Mike Van de Ven, chief operating officer of Southwest, on its Hawaii preparations on 24 January. ETOPS certification, he added, was the remaining requirement before it can begin flights.

Van de Ven and other executives said if the government shutdown ended that week, the airline could begin selling Hawaii flights by the end of the first quarter. The shutdown ended the next day, 25 January.

Southwest will face a competitive market between California and Hawaii when flights begin. Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines both fly from the four California airports and Hawaii, with the former serving all four of Southwest's planned destinations from Oakland, San Diego and San Jose, FlightGlobal schedules data shows.

Source: Cirium Dashboard