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Grab Your Leis, Southwest Is Finally Headed to Hawaii

Southwest Airlines currently owns the largest fleet of Boeing 737 MAX airframes among U.S. based carriers. During their second-quarter earnings announcement, airline CEO Gary Kelly said they were optimistic to start flying the 737 MAX by the end of 2020.

This week, the FAA granted Southwest Airlines tentative approval to operate flights between the West Coast and Hawaii. Regulatory approval for the budget carrier to fly the transpacific route using new Boeing twin-engine 737 Max aircraft was reportedly delayed by the recent partial federal government shutdown earlier this year.

On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave Dallas-based Southwest Airlines approval to begin flights from the West Coast to Hawaii. This key blessing from regulators means the airline’s long-awaited Hawaiian service could begin in just a matter of weeks.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the airline will initially serve four destinations in Hawaii from four California airports, to include San Diego International Airport (SAN), Oakland International Airport (OAK), Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) and Sacramento International Airport (SMF). Southwest COO Mike Van de Ven told reporters that an announcement about the timing of the inaugural flights and exactly when passengers will be able to book tickets is expected “in the coming days.”

Southwest had hoped to win Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards (ETOPS) approval (allowing the carrier to fly specially equipped Boeing 737 Max aircraft over the Pacific where an alternate airport can at times be more than an hour away) earlier this year, but because of the historic government shutdown, those plans were delayed.  It wasn’t until February 5th that the airline made its first ever landing at Honolulu Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) as part of the ETOPS certification process.

FAA officials say, while the carrier now has the unique certification required to begin Hawaii service, regulators will “increase oversight” of the airline for at least six months. The agency says this typically occurs after new operational certifications are approved. In August of 2015, American Airlines got itself into hot water with the FAA after inadvertently flying a non-ETOPS certified aircraft from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to HNL.

Southwest officials say the carrier’s long-anticipated entry into the Hawaiian market will put downward pressure on ticket prices. “We see prices higher than they need to be and we anticipate lowering fares,” Southwest Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in October of 2017. The airline has indicated plans to expand the low-fare Hawaii service to other West Coast airports within the year.

Will Southwest’s long-time-in-coming Hawaii service mark a sea change for paradise-bound air travelers or will an initial price war result in service cutbacks and an eventual price correction? Follow the discussion in the FlyerTalk Forums.

[Source: Wikimedia/Tomás Del Coro]

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JAGorham March 1, 2019

It says they'll serve four places in Hawai'i but doesn't say which ones. I'm assuming HNL, OGG, KOA, and ITO?