Duncan Stewart - LAX
Alain Charpentier - TLSFlights to London are a goal but may be at the limit of what's attainable after the carrier swapped its order for Airbus Group SE A350-800 jets to the shorter-range A330neo in 2014, Hawaiian Holdings Inc. CEO Mark Dunkerley said in an interview Wednesday.
"We certainly hope the answer is yes but we don't have all the information we need," he said. "It's going to depend on what our final seating configuration is and therefore the weight of the Neo and its exact performance and statistics when it's actually built."
The Honolulu-based carrier is studying about a half-dozen new long-distance routes to destinations in North America and East Asia, Dunkerley said at the Aviation Club in London. More East Coast destinations in addition to New York are a possibility, as well as cities in Canada. China, where the airline serves only Beijing, is "the really exciting prospect," he said.
A380 to Honolulu?
Southeast Asia is beyond the range of Hawaiian's 23 current-generation A330s and nine Boeing Co. 767s, though more Australian flights would be an option, according to the CEO. The Briton took over as chief in 2005 when the company was in bankruptcy protection.
Dunkerley, 52, said the airline is looking seriously at whether the Airbus A380 might have a role to play within its network, especially on routes such as those from Honolulu to Los Angeles, Tokyo and Las Vegas, which it serves with smaller wide-body planes six, three and two times daily respectively.
The argument for using the superjumbo, which might be available on attractive terms either from Airbus or, soon, in the second-hand market, isn't conclusive and Hawaiian needs convincing of the business case, Dunkerley said.
Mark Lapidus, CEO of plane-leasing firm Amedeo, which has orders for 20 A380s, said in a phone interview that Honolulu is a natural destination for the double-decker given the city's traffic volumes and relative isolation.
"Hawaii would be a good fit for either a new or used A380," he said. "The sector distances are at least eight hours in every direction."
Hawaiian will start taking delivery of 16 A321neo narrow-body jets next year and will use them on 2,600-mile (4,200-kilometer) trips to the U.S. West Coast, the core of its operations. That will enable the carrier to retire three 767s and switch more A330s to East Asian routes while still adding capacity, he said.
The carrier is also obtaining more Boeing 717s, used for intensive inter-island flying, taking the fleet from 18 planes to 20, at least. The A330-800neos are due for delivery between 2019 and 2021 and the plan for them hasn't yet been determined, the CEO said.
Following years of consolidation in the U.S. airline industry Hawaiian has emerged as one of the biggest independent carriers, and Dunkerley said he'd have to "do right by our stakeholders" and seriously consider any takeover approach that may come.
The company has a market value of US$2.46 billion, following an 83 percent surge in its share price over the past 12 months, the biggest gain among the 11 members of the Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index.
"If at some point an offer from somebody else comes on the table, that will have to compete with what our future looks like as a stand-alone," he said. "I don't think it's appropriate for any management team ever to say,'No, we're not prepared to consider an offer.' Down the road, who knows."
Hawaiian's focus on one long-distance leisure market sets it apart from other top U.S. carriers, so it isn't clear whether larger independents such as JetBlue Airways Corp. -- which earlier this year lost out to Alaska Air Group Inc. in a contest to buy Virgin America Inc. -- would consider it a good fit, he said.
"What I don't know and can't answer is whether other airlines value that which we uniquely bring," he said.
By Christopher Jasper, Bloomberg News