The U.S. Transportation Department's tentative approval of a Honolulu-Tokyo route for Hawaiian Airlines was welcome news for the airline as well as for Hawaii tourism officials.
On May 7, the DOT announced its tentative approval of four daily routes to Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Unavailable to American carriers since 1978, the new slots at the downtown Tokyo airport are the result of a recent open-skies agreement relaxing flight restrictions between Japan and the U.S.
The DOT's proposed decision also awarded Delta two Haneda slots from Los Angeles and Detroit and American Airlines a slot from New York's Kennedy Airport.
While Japan is Hawaii's second-largest source of visitors, the Honolulu-Tokyo route itself is actually the largest U.S.-Tokyo market, and the folks at Hawaiian Airlines couldn't be more pleased about the chance to enter that competition.
"We are delighted at the prospect of being able to start new service to Tokyo soon," said Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian's president and CEO. "This is exciting news for all of us at Hawaiian."
"We had applied for two roundtrips," Dunkerley continued. "And [we] remain convinced that our proposal would produce far greater benefits to competition than the other proposals and plan to ask the DOT to reconsider granting Hawaiian a second daily roundtrip."
The announcement came just 10 days after Japan Airlines announced the cancellation of its direct flight to Kona beginning in October.
In a statement, Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, hailed the decision as "a significant development for Hawaii. Haneda Airport is an important hub for Japanese commuters and is well linked to central Tokyo by road, rail and monorail, which will improve accessibility for international travel for business travelers and Japan residents living in secondary prefectures."
In its proposed decision, the DOT said that "Hawaiian's entry into the Japanese market should be a positive development, in terms of offering greater choice to travelers as well as increased competition in the U.S.-Japan market."
Objections to the tentative awards were due May 17, with a DOT response period scheduled to last seven days.
Should the DOT awards be made final, Hawaiian hopes to begin Honolulu-Haneda service shortly after the airport's fourth runway is opened in October.