LIHUE — Mark Dunkerley opened his talk to the Kauai Chamber of Commerce on Thursday with a simple statement:
“It’s been a good year for our business,” said the president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines.
It is facing global competition and holding its own, he said.
“Our little business is truly taking on the world and we’ve enjoyed a measure of success,” he added.
With a record 11.05 million passengers in 2016, and third quarter net income of $102 million, the airlines is doing well. Dunkerley gave credit to locals for flying with them and said their support has had an impact.
“It’s allowed us to grow and hire more people from the community we serve,” he said.
Hawaiian has added more than 1,000 employees to its company in the past year and will likely continue to increase its local workforce.
“That’s a thousand families, a thousand taxpayers, a thousand people in households,” he said to about 120 people gathered for the chamber luncheon at the Kauai Beach Resort. “I really think we have a special responsibility at Hawaiian to be part of the community.”
He noted that some airlines also bring tourists to Kauai, but they don’t support the community jobs like Hawaiian does.
That support Dunkerley spoke of has helped Hawaiian invest about $10 billion in recently delivered aircraft or aircraft on order. It is doing that with private money, he added, not government funds that affect taxpayers.
“We don’t have the money today to immediately satisfy all our long-term obligations,” he said. “What we have done, we have mortgaged our business to invest in this community.”
Hawaiian offers nonstop service to Hawaii from more U.S. gateway cities, 11, than any other airline, along with service from Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa and Tahiti. It provides about 160 jet flights daily between the Hawaiian Islands, with a total of more than 200 daily flights systemwide. It is a subsidiary of Hawaiian Holdings, Inc.
Dunkerley said Hawaiian is turning its focus and as a result, the neighbor islands of Oahu will see “big, big benefits.” It is looking into more flights from Lihue to the mainland, particularly to California.
“I think Kauai is going to be a chief beneficiary,” he said.
While Hawaiian is entering a period of “tremendous, tremendous excitement,” it will need continued community support, Dunkerley said.
“I can tell you for the next six or seven years, the big, big benefits are going to be flowing to the neighbor islands,” he said.
He expects business to be strong this year, but he added, “we will not experience tangible benefits, sadly, until 2018.
“That gives me opportunity to come back next year and tell you the same thing all over again,” he added with a laugh.
He said Hawaiian welcomes competition to try and provide lower fares.
“We’re very proud of what we do,” he said. “We make decisions each and every day to maintain a competitive level of service and maintain competitive fares.”
Dunkerley gave about a 20-minute talk, then took questions from the audience that ranged from:
w Service animals: Hawaiian has “limited ability” in this area due to government regulations. One passenger had a chicken for a service animal. Another, a horse.
w The affect of the Donald Trump presidency on his industry: Could be positive if airport infrastructure is improved. He said airport infrastructure is a serious problem that needs to be addressed soon.
w Lower fares for locals: “We’re always reviewing this. We want to stay competitive,” he said. “We value the fact we have repeating customers.”
w Baggage fees: Dunkerley doesn’t like them, but said they’re necessary to keep fares down and keep the airline near the top of web searches when people are looking for flights. The higher the price, the farther down in the search, which is bad for that particular airline. “That’s what’s driven us all to charge for bags,” he said.
w Contract negotiations with its pilots union: Still ongoing.