Hawaiian Airlines' Brent Overbeek

Hawaiian Airlines is best known outside Hawaii for its long-haul network to the continental U.S. and Asia. But for Aloha State residents, the carrier's interisland service is vital to facilitate everything from family visits to business meetings. Airlines editor Robert Silk spoke with Brent Overbeek, Hawaiian's vice president of revenue management and network planning, about that service and how it might change in the wake of the recent demise of Island Air, Hawaiian's primary interisland competitor.

Q: How many interisland routes do you offer? How many times per day do you fly them?

Brent Overbeek
Brent Overbeek

A: We've got our mainline Hawaiian 717 product with 128 seats that we fly throughout the Islands, and then we have the commuter Ohana service using 48-seat ATR 42s. Between the two of them, we consistently operate in 11 markets and to eight destinations.

The demographics of Hawaii are such that a little over 80% of people live here on Oahu. So a disproportionate amount of origin and destination traffic passes through Honolulu, though we've also got service to some of the other islands directly from Maui.

We run a really high-density schedule through Honolulu. We are running about 26 Honolulu-Maui departures each day.

Q: That's a lot of frequency. Why not use larger aircraft?

A: People really like the frequency. You finish your doctor's appointment here and you get to the airport and leave in 40 minutes. Frankly, as you get bigger and bigger aircraft, you have to cut frequency, and also your turn time is not as fast.

Q: How many locals fly on your interisland flights as opposed to tourists?

A: The largest bucket is the residents of Hawaii who are traveling within the state. That is probably upwards of between 60% and 65%. You've got people going on sales calls, you have people doing family visits.

What is probably unique to us is that not having roads between the islands, we carry traffic that goes on buses or cars in other places.

The other big bucket is our online connecting traffic, customers coming from Sydney, Tokyo, Seattle, Sacramento and New York transferring beyond Honolulu and Oahu to the other islands.

The last bucket is people connecting from other carriers. That represents about 10% of traffic.

Q: How many locals fly these flights during a typical week, and what is the typical price?

A: On an average week it's about 70,000 residents of Hawaii and about 110,000 to 120,000 total passengers. Our average one-way fare was about $90 (including taxes and fees) for the 12 months that ended in the second quarter.

Q: With the closure of Island Air on Nov. 10, your only competitor in the interisland market is Mokulele Airlines, which flies nine-seat turboprops. Do you plan to add service?

A: We've been gradually ramping up service within the past couple years anyway. Last year we acquired two additional 717s. And we will grow our capacity by single digits over the course of this year. As we look forward, our load factor is in the 75% range, which is below what we run our mainline network at. So we have some residual capacity. We'll certainly look at other opportunities. From when Island Air announced they were canceling operations, if you look through Thanksgiving, we've added 16 flights. We'll continue to assess that.

Q: What about prices: Will they go up in the absence of competition?

A: We haven't altered our pricing since the cessation of service from Island Air. In fact, we went out of our way to accommodate people in an affordable way. We've got a responsibility to our community. Yes, we are a for-profit company, but we recognize the service that we provide within the community. That is something that we don't take lightly.

Q: Is it important to keep prices moderate so that you don't provide an opportunity to other carriers, such as Southwest, which has expressed an interest in offering interisland service starting next year?

A: We've faced all kinds of competition throughout our history here. That has ebbed and flowed. We think we've got the right people, the right schedule and the right product to succeed in any environment. We are going to continue to focus on those things.

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