$4.4 BILLION

That is what Hawaiian Airlines will pay Airbus for a fleet of planes that will extend the range of the local carrier's nonstop flights STORY SUMMARY » Hawaiian Airlines, taking a major step toward solidifying its future, has signed...


Hawaiian's existing 767s, which have a range of 5,750 miles, currently serve nine West Coast cities, as well as Sydney; Papeete, Tahiti; and the U.S. territory of Pago Pago, American Samoa. Hawaiian is scheduled to begin service to Manila in March.

Even though the 767s are capable of reaching the U.S. East Coast and eastern Asia, Dunkerley said some days there is a "payload penalty" due to weather that does not allow Hawaiian to carry a full load of passengers.

Dunkerley said the extra range of the A330 will offer Hawaiian a comprehensive list of all cities in North America and eastern Asia without having to worry about weather constraints.

"And once you talk about the A350, you bring a whole new range of cities into the mix that could include cities in Europe and cities far deeper in Asia," Dunkerley said.

"You're talking about airplanes in the A350 that will be delivered more than 10 years from now, so it's not like we've decided which cities. But, clearly, we'd be looking at Singapore, and, in terms of Europe, we could be looking at Europe's biggest cities, London or Paris."

Dunkerley said the airline, which owns seven of its 767s and leases 11 others, will pay for the new aircraft with the profits it makes from its operations.

"This is a long-term fleet plan, so it really covers the next 15 years, and we will still operate 767s for most of that next 15-year period," he said.

Dunkerley said the extra aircraft and new markets will create jobs at Hawaiian, which currently has a work force of 3,438.

Capt. Eric Sampson, chairman of the Hawaiian Airlines unit of the Air Lines Pilots Association, called the fleet-plan announcement "a positive development for the airline" but cautioned that the new airplanes still exist only on paper.

"We're encouraged that our management has taken the long-term view in planning for the acquisition of new aircraft and entering new markets," said Sampson, whose union is currently in contract negotiations with management. "We hope that management remembers the employees who gave back millions in concessions (during Hawaiian's bankruptcy) to make this day possible. Management has told us that any improvements in our existing contract must be cost-neutral. If Hawaiian has enough funds to buy more than a dozen new airplanes, can't they also afford to pay their pilots a decent wage and fully fund their retirement plan?"

Dunkerley said Hawaiian decided to go with two different types of aircraft because of availability.

"The new-generation airplanes, which on the Boeing side is the 787 and on the Airbus side is the A350 -- both of them are largely unavailable for the next decade or so," Dunkerley said. "So one of the questions was did we want to continue to operate our existing aircraft fleet for 10 years until the new generation aircraft becomes available. When we looked at the numbers, we decided we were better off making the full step in two half-steps."

Spreading their wings

Hawaiian Airlines is acquiring 24 new long-range, wide-body aircraft from Airbus SAS that have a total list-price value of $4.4 billion.

Airbus A330-200

» Aircraft: Six wide-body planes, with purchase rights for an additional six

» Seats: 305

» Range: 6,325 miles

» Delivery date : 2012

» Potential destinations: Nonstop between Hawaii and North America or eastern Asia

Hawaiian Airlines' current long-haul fleet

Boeing 767-300 ERs and 767-300EMs

» Aircraft: 18 existing planes to be either returned when their leases expire or retired

» Seats: 252 to 264

» Range: 5,750 miles

» Current routes: Nine West Coast cities, plus Sydney; Papeete, Tahiti; Pago Pago, American Samoa; and Manila (beginning in March)

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