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Column: Don’t take airlift to Hawaii for granted

DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                At the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport earlier this month, Hawaiian Airlines employees demonstrated how passengers will disembark with physical distancing, to reduce contact and allow Hawaii to continue to safely welcome travelers.
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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM

At the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport earlier this month, Hawaiian Airlines employees demonstrated how passengers will disembark with physical distancing, to reduce contact and allow Hawaii to continue to safely welcome travelers.

Restrictions from imposing layoffs and salary reductions for airlines who received federal funds during the coronavirus pandemic expire Oct. 1. Expect to see the U.S. airline industry to shrink dramatically at that time. Our major U.S. airlines are planning substantial reductions in pilots and management, and we can expect similar reductions in flight attendants and operating staff.

Hawaiian Airlines has yet to make their position public, but we expect they will make similar expense reductions.

With total uncertainty in what their revenue picture will look like going forward, airlines will need to make deep cuts to expenses, including retiring older fleets, to avoid Chapter 11 bankruptcy declarations.

What will domestic travel demand be? Will those who have had their net worth impacted through layoffs or the stock market spend discretionary funds for a vacation in the near term? International travel is even more difficult to predict given the COVID-19 policies of each country.

Hawaii cannot take the risk of assuming lift capacity to Hawaii will resume among major carriers. With reduced personnel and smaller fleets, there will be increased pressure to assign their aircraft to the most profitable routes.

It’s well-known that Hawaii has always been a low-yield vacation market where it has been difficult to make money even in good times. Hawaiian Airlines is in a unique position because this is home, and it might be able to add capacity in the case of a shortfall by the U.S. majors, but it too has competitive and cost pressures in the same low-yield market.

There is no guarantee that an airline serving Hawaii before the shutdown will return in full force. We cannot take them for granted. We need to be proactive: to engage their long-term commitment to provide sufficient airlift to our state, thereby contributing to our economic recovery.

Someone at a senior level in the government agencies tasked with ensuring the future success of Hawaii tourism needs to be engaging in dialogue with all the airlines, which serve our state to understand what capacity they plan to add back. Hawaii also needs to be prepared to put incentives on the table.

Competitive North American destinations, primarily Mexico, Florida and Las Vegas, will be pushing airlines hard to help fill their hotels. Mexico has announced a “half-off” promotion for the next 60 days. Hawaii needs to assertively move toward the marketplace with a value-added message. We need to develop a package of incentives, including but not limited to reduced or suspended landing and airport rental fees along with possible promotional support to entice airlines to add capacity and support our island state.

We are in a precarious situation. The roll-out of marketing campaigns and recovery talks with airlines hinges on a target date and a plan to lift the 14-day trans-Pacific visitor quarantine. We need a commitment and action from our government leaders to allow those vested in the recovery of our state’s top economic driver to move forward with certainty.


Paul J. Casey is former CEO of Hawaiian Airlines and the Hawaii Visitors Bureau; Keith M. Vieira is principal of KV & Associates Hospitality Consulting.


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