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More flights coming

The airlines are set to provide more routes and more seats to Hawaii, which some expect to siphon business from Mexico

By Dave Segal

LAST UPDATED: 12:39 p.m. HST, Aug 6, 2010

Hawaii is generating renewed interest from the nation's airlines.

An influx of new airline seats to Hawaii from the mainland this year will make up about half of the 1 million seats that were lost in 2008 and 2009.

This year U.S. carriers are scheduled to bring in the most seats to Hawaii since 2007, as new routes from secondary markets boosts airlift capacity to 6.5 million, according to data from Sabre Air Solutions and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Next year the number of seats could top 7 million, said Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant based in Evergreen, Colo.

Airlines are adding routes to Hawaii from secondary cities due to increased demand and to take advantage of the perceived safety of the islands compared with the alternate vacation destination of Mexico, said Boyd.

"Where can you take an exotic vacation and stay home? Hawaii," Boyd said. "So what we're seeing, unlike Las Vegas, is we're seeing Hawaii being a much stronger vacation option than it has been in the last five years."

Airlines have added 11 routes so far this year between Hawaii and mainland cities. Continental Airlines began service from Orange County to both Honolulu and Kahului, and from Los Angeles to Kahului. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines added routes from San Jose, Calif., to both Kahului and Kona, as well as from Sacramento, Calif., to Kahului. American Airlines added Chicago-to-Honolulu service. Delta Airlines added service from San Diego and Detroit to Honolulu. And Hawaiian Airlines added Oakland-Kahului and San Diego-Kahului. Hawaiian also is scheduled to add a route between Las Vegas and Kahului in October.

In 2011, Alaska plans to add nonstop daily service between Bellingham, Wash., and Honolulu, as well as service to Kauai from San Jose and Oakland. Hawaii now makes up 15 percent of Alaska's operations.

"The new seats we have coming into the market are really coming in from the base markets of those West Coast cities that are the bread and butter of the visitor industry here, and secondary cities within that market," said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.

Hawaii's economy crashed when Aloha and ATA airlines shut down days apart in 2008 and took 14 percent, or 863,175 seats, out of the market. Hawaiian, Delta and Alaska picked up some of the slack, but the airlift coming into the state still ended the year down 12 percent, according to HTA researcher Daniel Nahoopii.

But an improving economy and demand for a safe yet exotic destination has renewed interest in the state.

"When you take a vacation in Hawaii, you really are out of the U.S., but your cell phone works and you're really in the U.S.," said Boyd, the aviation consultant. "We believe the Caribbean is going to be flat going forward in terms of net demand, and Mexico will be a net negative."

"The media is painting Mexico like Vietnam Phase 2 (due to safety concerns), and that is hurting leisure travel to Mexico. We believe we'll see some growth in Hawaii service because it's home, it's safe, my cell phone works and it's different."

United Airlines, which is expected to close its merger with Continental in the fourth quarter, is scheduled to bring in just more than 1.5 million seats this year, slightly ahead of the 1.49 million by Hawaiian, the state's oldest carrier. Hawaiian said yesterday that the 805,925 passengers it transported in July, which includes interisland flights, was the most of any month in company history. The previous high was 771,668 in July 2009.

Delta, which merged with Northwest Airlines in 2008, is scheduled to bring in the third-most seats this year with 967,248, while American is close behind at 963,597.

Of the active carriers, US Airways, which merged with America West in 2005, is due to bring in the fewest seats this year at 375,776.

Since 2007 Alaska has been the most aggressive airline in adding capacity by boosting its airlift more than 23-fold. It went from 26,533 that year to what is expected to be 613,085 in 2010.

"Alaska isn't opening up Bellingham-Honolulu for fun," Boyd said of the airline's plans. "They know it will work. (Las Vegas-based) Allegiant (Air) will be putting in an enormous amount of capacity into Hawaii along with Alaska. It's going to raise the profile of Hawaii as a destination, and there will be some shadow and halo effect in generating new demand."

Allegiant plans to begin service next year from secondary cities that it has not yet disclosed. The company still is "working through the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) process," said spokeswoman Tyri Squyres.

Even though Allegiant also serves Bellingham, she said Allegiant has "lots of other opportunities" since Alaska tapped that city first.

"I don't know when we'll be making the announcement at this point," she said.

Boyd said he expects to continue seeing more flights to Hawaii from secondary cities and that some will be going to the neighbor islands.

"I think that (the new flights from secondary cities) will generate interest in Hawaii as a major vacation destination because the other options have dried up and airlines will direct some of their capacity to Kauai and to Maui and to Kona."

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