HONOLULU — Five leaders of competing airlines participated last week in a Zoom webinar, “Impacts and Forecasts of the Airline Industry,” to discuss various logistics when Hawai‘i before the planned reopening of trans-Pacific travel Thursday.
During the 90-minute webinar, panelists discussed the economic hardship and several logistical changes the COVID-19 pandemic has caused.
In the opening portion of the seminar, Avi Mannis, senior vice president of marketing for Hawaiian Airlines, discussed the economic impact the pandemic wreaked on the aviation industry.
“Overall, in the industry, domestic aviation and traffic remains down 70%,” Mannis said. “This is one of the most-significant impacts, and we project to have a slower recovery than Sept. 11, 2001, when we saw a 30% decline in air travelers.”
Mannis localized the financial hardship by emphasizing that Hawai‘i’s trans-Pacific travel decreased by 97% to 98% since air travel was affected starting in March.
“Specifically, our Hawai‘i impact from COVID has been unique because of our dependence on air travel, and in our enforcement,” Mannis said. “It is hard to quantify what the underlying demand is during the quarantine.”
The financial devastation also forced the airline to furlough, lay off or force 2,500 workers into early retirement.
“That has just been part of the human cost that we faced in our community during this calamity,” Mannis said.
Contracting COVID-19 during flights was another topic addressed, by Daniel Chun, Hawai‘i director of sales, community and public relations for Alaska Airlines.
“With the universal mask usage, the chances of catching COVID-19 (from flying) is about 1%,” Chun said. “The filtration system in an aircraft cabin is comparable to the hospital and is 99% effective in getting rid of particular contaminants, and other bacteria from circulated air.”
Jeff Tarpey, regional general manager for United Airlines, talked about some of the sanitation efforts his company implemented.
United is taking a layered approach towards sanitation, and has a partnership with the Clorox Corporation and Cleveland Clinic to ensure their customers have a clean and safe experience by handing out various hand sanitizers and wipes to reduce the potential of transmission.
“Our government is working to collaborate to come up with a solution, and our airlines don’t compete on safety,” Tarpey said. “We need to have a clear, unified way on how businesses and tourism are working together, and recognizing the difference by county.”
Hiroshi Shibata, vice president and general manager of ANA-All Nippon Airways Company, said he is emphasizing the travel relationship between Japan and Hawai‘i.
He estimates it will be more than two years before recovery, and the company is focused on a return to normal travel patterns between Japan and Hawai‘i as a priority.
Tim Sakahara, state Department of Transportation communication director, emphasized that the safety of the community is being placed above everything else.
“With everything being done with quarantine, safety and health is our top priority,” Sakahara said. “We did everything with caution, knowing it would have a profound impact on the travel industry. That was clearly something we feared, but the safety and health of our consumers took full priority.”
Sakahara feels the state won’t be looking back after Hawai‘i opened up the islands to international travelers on Oct. 15.
“We want to keep the momentum going, and everyone is looking forwards, not backwards,” Sakahara said. “We are very cautious about doing so, and everyone in the travel industry is certainly getting all aspects (of travel) going.”
Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.