Hawaiian Airlines launched its third Asian route in eight months Tuesday and said it plans to announce service to more new markets before the end of the year.
The state’s largest carrier, which has been aggressively expanding as other domestic and international airlines have been scaling back, kicked off its inaugural flight to Osaka, Japan, with music, dancing, a Hawaiian blessing and the traditional maile lei. The new service comes on the heels of Hawaiian’s inaugural flights to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport in November and South Korea’s Incheon International Airport in January.
And there’s more expansion to come.
Hawaiian Chief Financial Officer Peter Ingram, who said bookings from Japan have been "very, very strong" despite the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, said the airline will make more route announcements next quarter.
"We’ve got some ideas about other places in Asia. We’ve got some ideas about other places in North America," Ingram said. "And we have some aircraft availability coming up next year."
Ingram said Hawaiian will take delivery of four Airbus A330-200s next year that will give the company the opportunity to look at some new markets.
Hawaiian, which said on March 31 it was maintaining daily Tokyo flights and moving forward with its Osaka service even though other carriers cut service due to the disasters, has been rewarded for its commitment to Japan.
"We’ve seen a real strong recovery (in Japan) as we’ve gone into the summer," Ingram said. "Bookings for June and July are very, very strong, and we’re confident about a continuation of strong bookings going forward."
Until Tuesday only Delta Air Lines and Japan Airlines offered daily flights from Osaka, which 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.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority said last month it expects Japanese arrivals to increase by 3.3 percent this year to nearly 1.3 million visitors and spending to rise by 8.2 percent to $2.1 billion.
HTA CEO Mike McCartney, who flew on the Osaka flight Tuesday, said the new service will result in up to $120 million in visitor spending per year and $18 million in state tax revenue based on 86 percent capacity on the flights. For all three of Hawaiian’s new Asia flights, McCartney said the annual payoff will be up to $350 million in visitor spending and $38 million in tax revenue.
"Osaka is like a new region for us, and I think they’re hungry for Hawaii and want to experience Hawaii," he said. "So it’s a good opportunity for the travel industry in Osaka and for us."
Hawaiian’s flight to Osaka will depart Honolulu daily at 2:20 p.m. and arrive at Kansai International Airport at 6 p.m. the next day. The return flight will leave Osaka at 9:30 p.m. and arrive in Honolulu at 10:50 a.m. the same day. The flights will take between eight and nine hours. Japan is 19 hours ahead of Hawaii.
Akio Hoshino, president of JTB Hawaii Travel LLC, said Hawaiian’s new Osaka route is a welcome development for the tour operator after Japan Airlines decreased its seat capacity.
"It’s a very good opportunity for Hawaiian and Japan to have this new route," Hoshino said. "We cannot survive without having air seats, so this is a great opportunity for the tourism industry in Japan."
Leon Yoshida, president and CEO of travel agency Tellmeclub Hawaii, also welcomed the new route.
"Any time we’re looking at additional flights, it’s good for all of us, not just the tour companies," he said.
Passengers Christine and Fritz Harris-Glade, former Hawaii residents who now live on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, were excited Tuesday to be making their first trip to Japan after winning an online sweepstakes held by Hawaiian.
"We didn’t believe it when we heard," Christine said. "I was a little skeptical because I didn’t think we had won, but we’re very excited to go."
Fritz said he had received an email six weeks ago about the sweepstakes and entered his mileage number.
"I forgot all about it," he admitted, "and then six weeks later I got a phone call and here we are."