Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightHawaiian Airlines is facing a formidable group of challengers in its bid to add nonstop service to the Big Island of Hawaii from Tokyo, competing with Delta, United and American Airlines for just one available U.S. slot that pairs the island with Haneda Airport, located about half an hour from downtown Tokyo.

“The competition is certainly going to be tough as we’re up against three legacy carriers,” Ann Botticelli, a Hawaiian spokesperson, told Travel Weekly last week. “But we think we did a really good job of outlining the public benefit because there will be a tremendous boost to the economy of Hawaii Island and then the state and by extension the U.S. economy.”

The Haneda slot was originally awarded to Delta in 2010 for nonstop service between Tokyo and Detroit, but the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) opened it up for bid in August after Delta requested permission to shift the underperforming Detroit route to a Haneda-Seattle segment.

American Airlines has since submitted a Los Angeles-Haneda application, and United has proposed a San Francisco-Haneda nonstop.

Hawaiian completed its Haneda-Kona proposal for the DOT, containing more than 175 letters from community leaders, residents and local businesses, on Sept. 13. The Big Island has been without nonstop service to Tokyo since Japan Airlines ended its daily flight to Kona from Narita Airport in October 2010.

“They had that direct service from Japan Airlines for 14 years,” Boticelli said. “And the economy there has suffered since. We’ve been asked several times by the people from Hawaii Island to consider a direct flight from Japan, and this seemed like a really good opportunity to try and get that service for them.”

Hawaiian estimates that its proposed Haneda-Kona service would generate an additional $74 million in visitor spending annually, and according to a statement issued by the airline’s CEO and president, Mark Dunkerley, create “an additional 1,400 jobs, most on the Island of Hawaii.”

In a letter supporting Hawaiian’s route application, George Applegate, the executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, insisted restoring airlift to the destination is key to improving the island’s sluggish economy.

“Even as the other major Hawaiian Islands see recovery, Hawaii Island continues to underperform, with hotel occupancy averaging around 60%.” Applegate wrote. “Many workers have been laid off at hotels, attractions, in retail stores and restaurants. The most recent casualty has been the closing of the 309-room Keauhou Beach Resort in Kona, leaving 112 workers jobless. We unfortunately lead the state in unemployment at a rate of almost 10%.”

Delta has argued that its Seattle proposal will link Haneda for the first time to the Pacific Northwest and that the Aloha State is already home to three existing Haneda-Honolulu routes, operated by Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, and Hawaiian.

“Unlike Hawaiian, Delta will use this limited Haneda opportunity to serve U.S. citizens and businesses, rather than transport Japanese tourists in the well-served Haneda-Hawaii marketplace,” the airline asserted in its Sept. 13 filing.

Botticelli said there is no precise timeline for a decision from the DOT but that Hawaiian hopes an announcement could be made by the end of October or early November.

The carrier would like to begin nonstop daily Haneda-Kona service, onboard its 294-seat Airbus A330-200 aircraft, in March
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