If you could launch a route from Hawai‘i to anywhere in the world, where would you go? The answer isn’t always as effortless as the one in your imagination. In the real world, the decision takes years to come to fruition, with lots of research, coordination and patience required.
The most recent leap you might have heard at Hawaiian Airlines was our announcement of nonstop service between Boston Logan International (BOS) and Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International (HNL) airports. On April 4, it is set to become the nation’s longest domestic flight at 5,095 miles, surpassing the previous record holder: our other East Coast flight of 4,983 miles between HNL and New York’s John F. Kennedy International (JFK) Airport.
Brent Overbeek, senior vice president of revenue management and network planning at Hawaiian Airlines, gave us the inside scoop on what it takes to introduce Pualani to a new market. From crunching numbers to choosing the perfect aircraft for the job, it’s no easy feat. So, let’s get started - below is our step-by-step guide to launching a route.
The First Step: The Big Decision
Reading the Data
First things first, we must ask ourselves what is the next best step for our airline? When it comes to choosing to expand a current route or taking on a completely new one, the answer is all in the research. Hawaiian’s Network Planning team is constantly evaluating current markets for service changes and exploring potential markets. The magic doesn’t happen overnight though – on average, we spend three to five years (for BOS, we started the conversation back in 2015) researching before a new route’s official launch.
Predicting the Future
When we study a potential route, a multitude of factors help us determine its chances for success:
- Local market size: The biggest indicator in our forecast, it tells us how many people are currently flying between markets. In the case of Boston, data revealed that nearly 500 people fly between eastern New England and the Hawaiian Islands on any given day.
- Macroeconomic indicators: These include gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, average disposable income and drive time to airport alternatives. A good new market would likely have to have a strong, growing and sustainable traffic base. In 2017, the market between BOS and HNL generated about $76 million in ticket sales.
- Market fluctuations: Is the market growing or shrinking? Essentially, what is the long-term prospect for the local economy?
- Connectivity: To make our guests’ trip as seamless as possible, we need to consider how we can connect to our different routes within our own network and opportunities to leverage our partners’ networks as well.
- Competitor schedules and product offerings: Wherever we fly, our brand promise is to provide superior value to travelers who will enjoy our Hawaiian hospitality, leading on-time performance and unmatched Hawai‘i expertise. In the case of Boston, we will become the first airline to offer non-stop service to Hawai‘i, five days a week.
Giving the Route Wings
The next step is identifying the best plane to safely and comfortably transport our guests to our island home. Each of our aircraft types is optimized for a different geography and mission. The wide-body Airbus A330s are designed for larger long-haul markets (significant cargo demand is a plus); the narrow-body Airbus A321s are best in class for the U.S. West Coast’s mid-size markets and non-stop service to our Neighbor Islands; the Boeing B717s are exceptional for high-frequency Neighbor Island flying, and the turbo-prop ATR-42s can serve smaller Neighbor Island markets. When they arrive in 2021, the B787-9 “Dreamliner” will allow us to fly faster and longer, while burning less fuel per seat than the A330s. Our research on possible B787-9 markets is well underway!
No matter where you place your finger on a map, chances are you’ll point to a market with no shortage of people saying they’d love to fly to Hawai‘i. But after years of research, out of all the markets in the East Coast (i.e. Washington D.C., Baltimore, Atlanta, Toronto), Boston checked all our boxes (listed under Predicting the Future) and became another perfect choice for our authentic Hawaiian hospitality to thrive.
The city is also the largest market without non-stop service to/from Hawai‘i – until April 2019, when we launch our first flight.
The Second Step: Crossing the “T”s and Dotting the “I”s
The Price is Right
We’ve sealed the deal and selected a new route. The next step is looking at pricing and establishing a base fare for the route. This takes a combination of art and science, and we always seek to offer the most value to our guests. Every market is unique, and the competitive landscape is equally diverse. With that in mind, we adapt our pricing accordingly.
It’s a Date
In terms of scheduling, our biggest priority is establishing an appropriate flight frequency for the market. We know our guests like options, so when demand justifies it, we seek to provide as much frequency as possible (think Los Angeles, Northern California’s Bay Area, and Japan). In developing mid-sized markets, where demand isn’t quite robust enough for daily service, traffic data helps guide our frequency and schedule.
With Boston, for example, we will offer ample service around the weekend since that’s when most guests want to begin or end their long-haul vacation. If traffic exceeds our forecasted demand, we would begin looking at increasing to daily service.
For those wondering, here’s our current set schedule:
FROM HNL to BOS:
Starting with the inaugural flight on Thursday, April 4, HA90 (named in celebration of our 90th anniversary starting November 2018) will depart HNL every day but Tuesday and Wednesday at 1:45 p.m. and arrive at BOS the following morning at 6 a.m.
FROM BOS to HNL:
Flight HA89 will depart BOS every day but Wednesday and Thursday at 8:55 a.m., except for Friday flights, which will depart at 8 a.m., arriving into HNL at 2:35 p.m. and 1:40 p.m. respectively.
Pro Tip: The arrival and departure times for many of our medium and long-haul flights are timed around hotel check-in and check-out to give travelers the afternoon to explore O‘ahu or connect to one of Hawaiian’s seven neighbor island destinations.
The Third Step: Launching Operations
Getting the Party Started
Our first steps in building our presence in a new city begin with getting the local communities familiarized with our brand of authentic Hawaiian hospitality. As Hawai‘i’s destination carrier, we represent the Aloha state, and our ‘ohana’s dedication to welcoming our guests with warm hospitality from the moment they step into our terminal sets us apart from our competitors.
If the airport is slot restricted, we must start with engaging the airport and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to secure our preferred gates. Other key operational steps include determining our staffing, ground handling and infrastructure needs at the new airport.
Working Against the Clock
We’ve picked the market, the aircraft, the frequency and the dates. Now, when do we break the news, start selling tickets, and start flying?
For a new long-haul route, we typically announce new service and open for sales about six or more months prior to the inaugural flight to give our guests enough time to book their trips in advance. For shorter markets, say service between Kona and Līhu‘e, the window between announcement and launch can be significantly compressed as we’d have fewer seats to fill and travelers wouldn’t book that far in advance.
Outside of our BOS route, check out a small sample of our most memorable flights in Hawaiian Airlines history:
November 11, 1929: Hilo, Island of Hawai‘i
Our predecessor Inter-Island Airways inaugurated service with the historic launch of service between Honolulu and Hilo with the Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker.
November 11, 1950: Hana, Maui
Guests once gathered around our DC-3 jet to celebrate the inaugural service between Honolulu and Hana and the opening of Hana Airport. The flight took off on 1949, though the route was later discontinued in March 1973.
1969: Kamuela, Island of Hawaiʻ i
In 1969, we revamped our service to Kamuela on the Island of Hawaiʻi to include our DC-9 jets. This service was eventually discontinued after August 1981.
March 1, 1987: Kapalua, West Maui
Passengers board the plane of our first flight out of West Maui's Kapalua Airport (JHM), which was operated by Hawaiian Airlines. At the same time, the airport opened for business and was used exclusively by our airlines' DHC- 7 aircraft.