Hawaiian Airlines, ramping up service to the state’s largest international tourism market, will inaugurate its second Honolulu-Japan flight when it begins daily nonstop service to Osaka in July.
The Osaka flight is the third new Asian route for Hawaiian in less than a year. Hawaiian began daily service to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport in November and four-times-a-week service to Seoul in January.
"We certainly looked at the size of the market and the demand for our service and responded to the interest of our travel partners in Japan, and all of those things pointed to Osaka being the next city for us in Japan," Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Mark Dunkerley said.
Osaka is Japan’s third-largest city with 2.62 million residents. The Osaka region — which includes Kyoto and Kobe — has more than 18 million residents.
"It will be very popular," said Keiichi Tsujino, president of Japan travel wholesaler JTB Hawaii Inc. "Many people would like to come to Hawaii from Osaka, but the number of flights are quite limited so a number of people have to give up the tour to Hawaii. But this time they will have more seats, so this will make the people in Osaka so happy."
Japan Airlines and Delta Air Lines currently offer one daily flight each between Honolulu and Osaka.
Hawaiian’s Osaka service, which will begin July 12 from Honolulu and July 13 from Japan, will add about 100,000 new air seats annually to Hawaii at a time when visitor arrivals from Japan are beginning to rebound. Japan visitor arrivals rose 5.3 percent to 1.23 million in 2010 after slipping 0.6 percent to 1.17 million in 2009. Likewise, visitor spending from Japan increased 5.7 percent to $1.93 billion in 2010 after declining 6.1 percent to $1.83 billion in 2009.
Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, called it "a smart move" by Hawaiian.
"We’ve been tracking demand from that region of Japan, and to have direct service makes sense," McCartney said. "We’re pleased and excited because it aligns with demand from that market."
McCartney said he foresees last year’s upward trend in Japan visitors to Hawaii continuing this year.
"Our market intelligence tells us there’s room for growth and more visitors to Hawaii," he said.
That fits with Hawaiian’s growth strategy.
"Japan is important to Hawaiian because the interest of the state is to continue to develop travelers out of Asia, and the interest of Hawaiian is therefore aligned with that," Dunkerley said. "We cannot expand in Asia successfully without having a strong focus in Japan."
Dunkerley said the newly added routes to Haneda and Incheon have been performing better than expected with roughly 80 percent of the seats filled on the 264-seat Boeing 767-300ER aircraft.
"Clearly the fact that we are announcing Osaka quickly after Haneda and Incheon is a reflection of how successful the launches have been on those two routes," Dunkerley said.
Hawaiian’s flight to Osaka will depart Honolulu daily at 2:10 p.m. and arrive at Osaka’s Kansai International Airport at 6 p.m. the next day. The return flight will depart Osaka daily at 9:30 p.m. and arrive in Honolulu at 10:50 a.m. the same day. Japan is 19 hours ahead of Honolulu.
Dunkerley said Hawaiian will use a Boeing 767 on the Osaka route but plans to use one of its new Airbus A330-200s for Haneda service in April after the airline’s fourth Airbus is delivered during that month.
Hawaiian will have a fifth Airbus delivered in October but also will be taking two Boeing 767s out of its fleet this year. The shuffling will leave Hawaiian with 36 aircraft in its fleet — the same number it has now — with 21 used for long-range flights.