Hawaiian Airlines, which lost hundreds of workers and saw an unprecedented drop in revenue as the pandemic unfolded, is poised for recovery as travel demand begins to return and the latest coronavirus relief bill provides additional support, the company’s top executive says.
Speaking on the Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii livestream show this morning, Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Peter Ingram said the carrier is now seeing consistent load factors in the mid-60-to-70% range.
The airline is calling some furloughed employees back to work, he said.
By next month, with the addition of service to Austin, Texas, the carrier will have added four new routes to meet new demand, he said.
The company expects to reduce its daily cash burn this quarter to a range of $1.3 million to $1.5 million, down from a high of $4.5 million during the second quarter of last year.
“We are seeing demand showing real true signs of recovery in a way that we haven’t seen since the pandemic,” Ingram said. “In the last six weeks, we’ve seen bookings pick up. Traffic levels heading into March are higher than they have been for a year now.”
Hawaiian, which employed just over 7,400 people before the pandemic, has seen its workforce come back to 6,700 by mid-March, and it’s only getting better, Ingram said.
Earlier this month, jobs for 810 unionized Hawaiian employees were at risk as a March 31 expiration loomed for Payroll Support Program funds. However, the federal government came through and provided additional PSP funds through September.
Ingram had said when the carrier announced its new direct service between Honolulu and Orlando, Fla., that he hoped the PSP funds would avert any more involuntary job reductions by allowing extra time for travel demand to pick up and the company to continue to grow and rebuild.
“We’ve got more than enough liquidity in place to manage through what is left of this crisis, ” Ingram said. “And, right now, instead of thinking about laying off employees, we’re actually looking at having to ask some of our employees who were on voluntary leaves to come back before those voluntary leaves expire because we are spooling up our schedule and the bookings are picking up.”
Ingram said Hawaiian has been able to raise financing, too. In general, Hawaiian is “feeling a lot more positive.”
“There’s a wind in our sails that has not been there for the last little while,” he said.
Still, Ingram is cognizant that the pandemic isn’t over yet, and headwinds remain.
“We’ve got to continue to see the vaccinations win the race against the variants of the disease,” he said. “But as we sit here, right now, we’re feeling pretty enthusiastic that we could have a bit of a stronger summer and start to get back to the business of recovering and building back our business for the long-term future.”
Ingram said he supports reopening interisland travel by “removing the requirement for testing and not replacing it with vaccines.”
“Our view, and I’ve shared this with the governor and the mayors, and other public officials, is that the circumstances now are very different from where we were in August when we reimposed the requirements on neighbor island travel, specifically put a quarantine in place and then required testing.
“If you think back to August when those restrictions went in place again, it was a time when we were having over 300 cases per day in Oahu, the positivity rate was far higher in Oahu than the rest of the state,” Ingram said. “If you look at the data now, it tells you that Oahu is almost entirely in line with the state average.”
The eventual easing of Hawaii’s travel restrictions is expected to increase travel demand to the state, which already has experienced incredible tourism strengthening in March — a popular spring break travel period. Huge progress in COVID-19 vaccine rollouts across the U.S. also appears to have contributed to the gains.
Ingram said Hawaiian understands that trans-Pacific travel currently demands different requirements.
“For long-haul travel, we do understand that there are differences outside of Hawaii and the level of virus that is still existing in other communities. And so we expect a testing requirement to be in place for some time,” he said. ” We think the next logical step would be allowing people that have had their full dose of vaccination and the requisite two weeks after that for the vaccine to take full effect to be able to avoid testing requirements if they provide proof of vaccine. The biggest impediment to that is probably the logistics of verifying that you have had your vaccine.”
Ingram said Hawaiian Airlines, along with other carriers across the nation, have encouraged the federal government to lay out standards for what a so-called vaccine passport should look like “so that private developers can do their magic to go and develop the software and applications so that communities like Hawaii could use it.”