Shutdown stalls Southwest Hawaii launch

  • David Zalubowski / Associated Press file photo

    Ramp workers prepare a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 for departure last year at Minneapolis International Airport in Minneapolis.

Southwest Airlines was expected to begin flights to and from Hawaii and interisland in early 2019, but the ongoing federal government shutdown has delayed those plans.

Southwest announced in 2017 that it was preparing to offer flights to and from and within Hawaii, but those plans had to undergo an application and certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration, which can take more than a year. That process was not complete by late December, when the federal government shut down.

One of the last stages of the FAA’s process is certification for Extended-Range Twin-Engine Operational Performance Standards, or ETOPS. Ross Birch, president of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said all planes and airline staff that make extended flights over water must be ETOPS certified.

“Some airplanes come with ETOPS certification, but since Southwest hasn’t had any flights over the ocean this long, they have to do it all for the first time,” Birch said.

However, the shutdown of the federal government, now in its fifth week, resulted in thousands of federal employees being furloughed, including those at the FAA who would oversee the ETOPS certification process. Until the certification process is complete, Southwest cannot sell tickets to Hawaii.

Birch said he understands Southwest is “ready to go” after it receives the ETOPS certification, although he said he is unsure how quickly the certification could be finished after the shutdown ends.

Once Southwest is ETOPS-certified, Birch said there will be a lag between when the airline begins selling tickets to Hawaii and when the first flights reach the state.

On Thursday, Southwest Airlines reported fourth-quarter net income and earnings per diluted share of $654 million and $1.17, respectively, compared with fourth quarter 2017 record net income and record earnings per diluted share of $1.7 billion and $2.94.

It also reported annual net income and earnings per diluted share of $2.5 billion and $4.29, respectively, compared with annual 2017 record net income and record earnings per diluted share of $3.4 billion and $5.57.

“2018 was an incredible year of resilience and achievement,” said Gary C. Kelly, chairman of the board and Chief Executive Officer. “Our employees persevered through significant challenges, delivering our 46th consecutive year of profitability with strong margins, record cash flows, and $544 million in profit-sharing.”

Kelly said they finished the year strong, with record fourth-quarter net income and earnings per diluted share. And earlier this week, Southwest was again named to Fortune’s 2019 list of World’s Most Admired Companies.

“Based on current revenue trends, our cost outlook, and energy futures, we are currently expecting a strong first quarter 2019 financial performance,” Kelly added.

Birch said the visitors bureau will increase marketing in California when Southwest obtains its final certification. Flights to Hawaii will arrive from four airports in California, where the bureau already markets extensively.

The California airports include Oakland Metropolitan Airport, San Diego International Airport, Mineta San Jose International Airport and Sacramento International Airport.

Flights will arrive from those airports at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Ellison Onizuka International Airport in Kona, Kahului Airport on Maui and Lihue Airport on Kauai. Interisland flights between the four Hawaii airports also will be available.

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Michael Brestovansky of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald contributed to this report.

2 Comments
  1. I saw a Vampire once January 24, 2019 10:42 pm Reply

    I know they made the same case. UA #1175 from San Francisco to Hawai’i. The right engine and the panel flew off the airplane. nobody was injured on that flight on February 13, 2018, earlier in the year.


  2. kauaiboy January 25, 2019 7:33 am Reply

    So now Trump’s government shutdown is affecting ALL Hawaii residents who are looking forward to increased competition and lower prices, especially on inter-island flights.

    Listen up, Trump supporters. His asinine idea of an (ineffective) border wall is impacting all of us.

    Throw the bum out!


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