Hawaiian Airlines has a fleet of 69 aircraft. Comprised of both jet aircraft and turboprops, the carrier is Hawaii’s hometown airline and flies the longest scheduled nonstop domestic route in the world and has a heavy inter-island schedule. On the airline’s second-quarter earnings call this past week, the carrier’s executives were asked about plans for its future fleet. Here is what they had to say on various topics.
Electric aircraft or eVTOLs
Peter Ingram, CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, was directly asked about the prospect of electric aircraft entering Hawaiian’s fleet. Mainly focused on eVTOLs, Mr. Ingram was asked about the potential for those aircraft to replace the Boeing 717. Here is what he had to say:
“As we think about it, the Neighbor Island routes really do provide an interesting application for electrification of aircraft because one of the challenges [is] that the machines that are currently in design are limited on their range. We’ve got a lot of traffic that flies between 100 miles and 250 miles, and the prospect of replacing that with an electric aircraft at some point in the future is a lot more foreseeable than the prospect of replacing an airplane that has to fly 2,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean to get to the West Coast from here.”
Certainly, Mr. Ingram left open the opportunity for electric aircraft or eVTOLs to join Hawaiian’s fleet, but he added the following caveat:
“That said, I think the technology is still a ways off. The eVTOL equipment that is being envisioned and designed today by a number of manufacturers is typically more for urban mobility, and it is four to six passenger applications, and when you think about the six million people that travel between the Neighbor Islands each year, we really require bigger aircraft than that.”
eVTOL and electric aircraft have seen interest from major US airlines. Notably, both United Airlines and American Airlines have placed some bets on eVTOL jets for use in urban markets. Separately, United Airlines has also bet on small electric turboprop aircraft.
Hawaiian could certainly be an airline for which these aircraft could work really well. Given the relatively short stage length of flights between the Hawaiian islands and the frequency with which Hawaiian wants to service the routes, small electric aircraft could work really well.
The problem is that Hawaiian Airlines currently flies the Boeing 717 on its Neighbor Island flights. These planes seat up to 128 passengers in a two-class configuration. The current crop of eVTOL and electric aircraft cannot support that many passengers.
Mr. Ingram discussed perhaps the mid-2030s, at least, before an aircraft powered by electricity makes sense for Hawaiian Airlines. Hawaiian will need to replace its Boeing 717s before then. The timeline has generally been the middle to end of this decade when the planes will be nearing the end of their usable, profitable lifespan.
Still betting on the Boeing 787
Hawaiian Airlines has yet to receive the first of its 10 firm Boeing 787-9 aircraft on order. The first of these aircraft are scheduled to arrive in 2022. The carrier also has options for ten more 787-9s.
When asked about whether Hawaiian still actually needs the 787-9s, Mr. Ingram stated the following:
“Anytime you go through a fleet transition, it requires a period of transition, and that adds complexity and it does add a little bit of cost. But it also positions you to benefit from the benefits of the modern technology and the 787 remains the most advanced generation of new aircraft [it is] incredibly fuel-efficient and environmentally efficient, and it is destined to be the flagship of our network. We’re still very excited to get it.”
The Boeing 787-9s were first ordered in 2018. Hawaiian Airlines was anticipating receiving the first of the jets in 2021, with plans to use the aircraft on its transpacific routes to Asia and North America.
With the onset of the crisis, Hawaiian deferred the Boeing 787-9 deliveries to 2022, and it currently expects to receive the first of these jets next year. The airline is expected to launch upgraded products onboard these jets.
Planning on reducing the A330 fleet
Hawaiian Airlines has 24 Airbus A330-200 aircraft in its fleet. These are split evenly between leased (including finance and operating leases) and owned jets. However, the carrier is planning on reducing its A330-200 fleet.
By the end of the second quarter of 2022, Hawaiian Airlines is anticipating reducing its A330-200 fleet down to 22 jets. This will see the return of two leased aircraft.
The A330-200s are the current backbone of Hawaiian’s fleet, but these jets are starting to lose their position in Hawaiian’s fleet as the flagship widebody jet in favor of the Boeing 787-9s.
Hawaiian will still be flying the A330s for years to come, however. Even if it exercises its 10 options for the 787-9, it will be short in terms of shell count on a replacement for the A330-200s. One option could be a repeat order for Boeing 787-9s to cover A330 replacements.
Hawaiian Airlines has not set out a huge list of expansion plans. While other airlines plan to take on tens or hundreds of new aircraft over the next few years, Hawaiian Airlines is focused on its business connecting the mainland United States and Asia to the state of Hawaii.
The Airbus A321neos
Hawaiian Airlines loves these Airbus A321neos. Mr. Ingram has previously likened these jets to a “Swiss Army Knife.” These jets are optimal for some of Hawaiian’s thinner routes to the mainland United States and can work well on some inter-island flying.
Hawaiian Airlines has purchase rights for nine additional Airbus A321neos. While not a large number of aircraft, if Hawaiian exercises its options on these jets, it could turn to growing its mainland network from Honolulu, and perhaps also out of its other important cities like Lihue or Maui. The Airbus A321LR could also be a good fit for the carrier.
There are plenty of fleet-related opportunities for Hawaiian Airlines in the coming years, and its finances are coming back. In the second quarter of 2021, the carrier lost only $6.2 million and is on track to see profitability in the coming quarters as Hawaii reduces restrictions on travel, and the airline starts to get some pricing power back, though Hawaii remains a very competitive market.
Hawaiian Airlines needs cash to support growth and innovation, whether in electric aircraft or more traditional jets. It is starting to get back to business, and the future remains bright.
What do you make of Hawaiian’s future fleet outlook and opportunities? Do you think the airline should take on electric planes? Let us know in the comments!