Hawaiian Airlines continues to aim high

Got to give Mark Dunkerley credit.

At a time when many people are none too happy about the price of airline tickets — and they’re likely only going to become more expensive — the CEO of Hawaiian Airlines stood before 105 people at Wednesday’s Kauai Chamber of Commerce luncheon and was affable, reasonable and engaging.

Sure, that’s what you would expect, but it seemed likely that someone would put him on the spot and demand to know why plane tickets are so expensive, especially, it seems, from Kauai.

No one did. There were a few questions, mostly easy ones, which Dunkerley fielded. Perhaps most were satisfied with his explanations for the cost of a plane ticket to the Mainland. Government fees, taxes, fuel, salaries, maintenance, commissions and other long-term fixed costs quickly add up.

Hawaiian Airlines, based in Honolulu, is a big player when it comes to impacting Kauai’s tourism industry.

It boasts that it is Hawaii’s largest and longest-serving airline. Last year, it carried nearly 700,000 passenger to Kauai and has about 20 daily non-stop flights to Lihue from Honolulu and Maui, depending on the time of year.

And with the addition of two new seasonal routes from Oakland and Los Angeles, Lihue Airport will have a Hawaiian Airlines wide-body aircraft arriving every day of the week this summer.

Financially, it’s on solid ground, with 2012 net income of $41 million, and will announce fourth quarter and 2013 earnings later this month.

Performance-wise, it’s doing well. Hawaiian Airlines was the nation’s highest-ranking carrier for on-time performance in October, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Hawaiian Airlines’ flights arrived on schedule 95.2 percent of the time throughout the month of October. The DOT also reported that Hawaiian Airlines was one of the top three airlines for fewest flight cancellations in October at 0.1 percent, representing four cancellations out of 5,985 total flights.

Dunkerley offered sound future plans that include investing $11 billion in new aircraft and an emphasis on the Asian market. Forty-five percent of Hawaiian’s flights are generated by travel from the Mainland to Hawaii, 25 percent is interisland travel and 30 percent is to Asia.

Dunkerley said that three years ago, Hawaiian’s share of the market in Asia was “virtually zero.” It’s only going to increase, thanks to the next-generation fuel-efficient A350s that will seat 322 passengers and have a range of 8,300 nautical miles that would allow Hawaiian to fly nonstop between Hawaii and Asia.

“For Hawaii, China is, over the next generation, going to play a terribly important role,” Dunkerley said. “It is our belief, for us to prosper as a community, we’re going to have to understand the Chinese consumer.”

Overall, it’s hard to argue with Hawaiian Airlines performance and its prices are in line with other airlines — though we must admit folks have no other real way off Kauai and must pay the asking price.

So, Mr. Dunkerley, while we appreciate your visit to our island and agree Hawaiian Airlines is doing well, there is one thing we believe you can afford and would love to see happen: Better deals for interisland travel.

We think islanders, especially those here on Kauai, should be offered a significant price break to visit other islands.

We think we deserve it, as some of your best customers, and we’re sure you do, too.

Make that happen, and on your next visit, lunch is on us.

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