Island Air plans to start flying a faster, larger plane within Hawaii, putting it in a position to grab a bigger piece of the interisland market.
Performers dancing hula and playing Hawaiian music celebrated the arrival of the company’s first Q400 during a ceremony Wednesday. The turboprop is manufactured by the Canadian company Bombardier.
The plane seats more people — 78 — and is faster than Island Air’s existing aircraft, the 64-passenger ATR 72. The aircraft Island Air is leasing will all be brand new, which should pose fewer maintenance problems than the airline’s existing 24-year-old planes. The company aims to swap out its entire five-plane fleet by the summer.
Island Air is Hawaii’s second largest carrier. But it’s much smaller than Hawaiian, which carries 84 percent of passengers flying between the islands. CEO David Uchiyama says Island Air had just 6 percent of the interisland market in the third quarter.
Uchiyama said Island Air doesn’t aim to compete with Hawaiian.
“All we’re looking to do is to expand our seat inventory and be a viable alternative for affordable interisland travel,” Uchiyama said in an interview. The company currently flies from Honolulu to Lihue, Kahului and Kona. Uchiyama said it aims to begin flights to Hilo this year.
Hawaii-based aviation historian Peter Forman said the interisland market has lacked a substantial second carrier since Aloha Airlines went out of business in 2008.
“Hawaii’s interisland market is too attractive a market to remain dominated by just one airline. Eventually a second major player will arrive,” Forman said. “By upgrading to the Q400, Island Air is staking their claim to becoming that second major player in the interisland market.”
Island Air’s challenge will be to convince passengers to try them out, Forman said.
Uchiyama said he believes Island Air’s prices will attract passengers. He said news of the airline will spread by word of mouth through the “coconut wireless.”
“The local community is going to see they have an option and it’s a viable option,” Uchiyama said.
The company has pushed to improve its on-time record and reduce cancelled flights to that end.
In mid-2015, the airline began flying only three of its five ATRs at a time so it would have spare planes to press into service if a maintenance problem developed that couldn’t be quickly fixed.
Island Air reported 88.2 percent of its flights were on time in November, the most recent month for which data are available. Its on-time average for 2013 was 66 percent and for 2012 was 77 percent.
The Q400 is also flown by Porter Airlines, a Toronto-based regional carrier, on flights to Boston, Chicago and other locations. QantasLink, a regional subsidiary of Australia’s Qantas, flies the aircraft across the country’s eastern coast.
The Q400 is 30 percent faster than conventional turboprops. Uchiyama said the plane will allow Island Air to cut 12 minutes off its flights from Honolulu to the Big Island.
Flights will have a faster turnaround times because passengers will be able to get off from both the front and back of the plane.
These factors will allow each Q400 will be able to fly seven flights each day compared to five to six for each ATR, Uchiyama said.