What do the iPod, Facebook, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, and G-Mail all have in common? They launched in 2004 – the same year Hawaiian Airlines began its current 15-year streak as the nation’s leader in on-time performance (OTP)*.
While a lot has changed since then, the ingredients that have cemented our reputation for being the most punctual U.S. carrier remain the same: It takes an army of hardworking and dedicated employees passionate about providing our guests with a superior leisure experience while flying to, from or between our Hawaiian Islands.
“Strong on-time performance is a fundamental success metric for every airline and a basic expectation of the modern-day traveler,” shared David Rouse, managing director of the System Operations Control Center (SOCC) at Hawaiian Airlines.
What is the secret formula behind our strong OTP? We picked the brains of three leaders in our company whose teams play a critical role in keeping Hawaiian atop the punctuality list. Meet the team:
Jim Landers, our senior vice president of technical operations, oversees maintenance and engineering functions and strategy. FUN FACT: Before joining Hawaiian, he served as director of operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and commanding officer of both USS Makin Island and Patrol Squadron 47.
Jeff Helfrick, vice president of airport operations, is responsible for guest, ramp and contract services at airports across our global network. FUN FACT: He started as a sales representative at United Airlines and worked his way up the chain.
Ken Rewick, vice president of flight operations, oversees all pilot qualification initiatives and our SOCC in Honolulu. FUN FACT: In 2013, he became the most senior pilot among Hawaiian's 840-plus pilot workforce.
What would you say is the key operational recipe in your respective departments for keeping our flights on schedule?
LANDERS: We are fortunate at Hawaiian to have exceptional talent and access to top-of-the-line training technology – two critical components to ensuring successful technical support of our on-time performance. Over our 90 years of service, we have built a reputation of safe and reliable service, along with a deep institutional knowledge of the unique challenges of flying to, from, and between the islands. Our teammates readily share their knowledge and experience to keep everyone in the canoe paddling in the same direction with full strokes.
As we grow and modernize our fleet, we are introducing technological tools to enhance our team’s ability to monitor the health of the aircraft, quickly diagnose issues and confidently return our aircraft to service. Every day, we strive to perform with precision for the benefit of our guests.
REWICK: While multiple departments perform vital functions that allow Hawaiian to operate as a living airline, our SOCC acts as the central nervous system. Our SOCC brings together the everchanging inputs of weather, air traffic, guest needs, maintenance requirements, crew scheduling, aircraft availability and other factors while guiding our airline’s actions on a moment-to-moment basis. No two days are ever the same in this business, and it requires the knowledge and experience of our SOCC managers to monitor our global operation and adjust our direction as circumstances change – as they frequently do.
HELFRICK: Hawaiian’s Airport Operations (AO) team's ability to communicate and coordinate with each other is key to running a smooth operation and overcome daily challenges posed by varied airport environments and restrictions. We are investing in new technology, ground equipment, and on modernizing our station facilities, while constantly reviewing and refining internal processes to become even more efficient.
Hawai‘i is fortunate to have year-round good weather. How much does favorable weather contributes to on-time performance and do you think it’s why Hawaiian has been the most punctual U.S. carrier for so long?
REWICK: While we generally enjoy year-round sunny weather at our home base in Honolulu, we face adverse weather conditions and challenges throughout our global network. All-in-all, we prepare as best as we can by using top-of-the-line monitoring services and an extensive communication web, which stretches across our company and beyond.
[Learn more about these services and the specific types of weather scenarios we face throughout our network by reading “How Hawaiian Airlines Manages a Storm”.]
We also have an extremely robust Neighbor Island network that represents most of our flight activity. If one of these flights is late by just a few minutes, we must play catch-up to avoid incremental delays on subsequent flights. And, because we have over 170 Neighbor Island flights daily, we’ve mastered extremely fast turns for our Boeing 717 – the 20 narrow-body aircraft that we operate to connect Hawai‘i’s four major islands – which has allowed us to maintain a steady on-time departure record.
Accomplishing an on-time departure often hinges on executing a tight turn (deplaning and emplaning passengers and bags, cleaning and catering, refueling, before pushing the aircraft back to the runway for its next flight). What does it take to make a successful aircraft turn and what does the process entail?
HELFRICK: It’s all about coordination. Once the plane arrives at the gate, our guest service agents will connect the jet bridge (or the open-air ramp if you happen to fly with us at Kona International Airport) for guests to deplane, while our below-wing teams offload bags and cargo, refuel the aircraft, and complete inspections for the subsequent departure. As our inbound guests leave the cabin, our aircraft appearance teams will begin to clean the interior.
The countdown for the next departure has already begun with guests on the upcoming flight preparing to board. Our guest service teams can’t begin onboarding guests until after our cleaners and caterers finish, and the flight crew completes pre-flight checks. For our wide-body Airbus A330 aircraft turn, we deplane and board a combined 500-plus passenger load, while moving bags and freight cargo, and replenishing food and fuel, all within a 90-minute turn time.
For our narrow-body flights (interisland Boeing 717s and transpacific Airbus A321neos), we accelerate the same process to meet a 30-minute aircraft ground time. We knew that for our new A321neo flights, the turn time would be extra tight and our ground time would be reduced. Several departments successfully engineered a 75-minute turn through a detailed analysis of the process and synchronization of key moving parts.
Hawaiian has a very meticulous maintenance program to keep our aircraft flying safely and maximize our fleet availability. Overall, how would you explain our airline’s maintenance strategy – and how does it support our on-time record?
LANDERS: Our maintenance strategy is extremely value- and process-oriented, which has allowed us to safeguard our reputation for having reliable service. Since our founding nearly nine decades ago as a regional airline, we’ve maintained a strong safety record as we evolved into the carrier we are today.
We focus on:
- Doing it right the first time and by the book every time.
- We strive to strike the right balance between in-house and contracted work.
- For our contracted work, which typically includes engine and component maintenance, we seek value and flexibility.
- Nurturing local talent through our Aircraft Mechanic Apprenticeship Program (AMAP) to provide employment opportunities and support our growth.
Check out the video we made at the launch of the AMAP program:
We opened our new Honolulu maintenance hangar in 2017, fully equipped with brand new technology, inventory systems and, most importantly, space. How has this allowed us to grow our in-house maintenance capabilities and improve efficiency in servicing our aircraft fleets? Has this had a positive impact on on-time performance?
LANDERS: Since we took occupancy of our new hangar, we’ve been able to streamline our maintenance practice to be more productive on a day-to-day basis. Our investments in the new facility provide enhanced safety systems, tooling and equipment, and the foundation for our ongoing evolution to technology-enabled maintenance practices.
The transition to the new hangar has enabled our continued success in on-time performance with improved efficiency.
- Perform the full scope of maintenance on our Neighbor Island jet fleet of 20 Boeing 717s, and our 13 new Airbus A321neos flying between the U.S. West Coast and Hawai‘i. We are taking delivery of five more A321neos through next year. With less than two years in service, our requirements for this young fleet has been heretofore limited to line maintenance tasks.
- For our 24 Airbus A330 long-haul aircraft, we perform all line maintenance requirements at our Hawaiian-staffed bases to include service checks, overnight preventative maintenance tasks, inspections and repair.
Last year, we received our FAA Part 145 certification enabling the growth of our own Technical Services business that provides contracted maintenance services to other airlines flying to Hawai‘i. All these resources help us maintain a healthy fleet of aircraft, improve technician productivity and play a significant role in our on-time performance measures.
Helping guests with checking in and navigating the airport efficiently are also critical to an on-time departure. What are some of the daily challenges airport teams face in running an airport operation, especially since each airport is different in its own unique way? How are teams working together to overcome these challenges and improve the overall guest experience?
HELFRICK: There are certain aspects of the airport experience we don’t control, namely the TSA security checkpoints, connections from different airlines, and the overall physical infrastructure. When flights all depart from the same airport within a certain timeframe, it means a lot of people all converging at once. Our Hawai‘i airports were built to accommodate passenger counts that were a fraction of what they are today, so it can be very challenging to keep traffic flowing.
For areas within our control, namely check-in and boarding, we are constantly looking for opportunities to improve.
Earlier this year, we launched a new mobile application to improve our guests’ day-of travel experience. The new platform includes real-time notifications, airport navigation, an integrated chat system to get assistance, and more. The app has been well-received by our guests and proven to be a beneficial resource.
For our lobby space, we have rebalanced our check-in at our Honolulu hub through expansion into Lobby 4 in Terminal 2 and we will be installing new kiosks and re-designing all our Hawai‘i lobbies, including 2 and 3 at Terminal 1, to improve guest flow. For the gates, we are looking at streamlining the boarding process through guest self-scanning, as well as tagging strollers and car seats in the lobby rather than at the gate. We have also identified and eliminated unnecessary administrative processes at the gate and will be rebalancing zone boarding.
Simultaneously, while gate and lobby changes are being rolled out, we continue to work on developing better training and mobile tools for our guest service agents to enable their success. Recent examples are the onboarding of a new, top-of-the-line baggage scanning system. This technology is simple to use, allows us to minimize our margin of error, and efficiently manage the inventory of our guests’ baggage.
*The United States Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) considers flights to be on-time if they depart from the gate or arrive at the gate less than 15 minutes after their scheduled departure or arrival times.