Alaska Airlines Eyes Hawaii

Alaska Airlines has made a series of moves recently that would let the Seattle-based carrier fly long, isolated routes over open water.

Maybe even to Hawaii.

An article on . com, a company Web site for employees, said last Friday that the carrier is close to gaining two new flying certifications that "will give Alaska Airlines the ability to apply for new markets such as Hawaii and Central America."

"Certainly those two approvals would open up a realm of new possibilities," Alaska spokeswoman Amanda Tobin Bielawski said Tuesday. "Hawaii would be within that realm of possibility, as would a number of other destinations."

Alaska Airlines' recent moves include:

* Purchasing Boeing 737-800 jets, a new line that can fly longer distances.

* Seeking Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly the jets on routes far from emergency landing sites.

* Applying for FAA certification of crews to fly more than 50 nautical miles from shore.

On Tuesday, Alaska Airlines received its eighth 737-800, an improved version of Boeing's workhorse 737. Unlike some older planes in Alaska's fleet, the 800's range is well beyond 2,780 miles, the distance between Anchorage and Honolulu.

Seattle and San Francisco, two other cities served by Alaska, are closer to Hawaii by a few hundred miles.

Alaska announced in March an order for 51 of the 800s, with various options for up to 102.

Bielawski said the airline was applying to have the 737-800s granted FAA approval for so-called Extended Twin- Engine Operations, or ETOPS, by the FAA.

ETOPS certification allows airplanes with just two engines, like the 737, to fly routes traditionally reserved for four-engine airliners, where the nearest place to land can be three hours away.

Tobin said Alaska expects the ETOPS certification to be completed in February. None of Alaska's current fleet is ETOPS-certified.

Also this month, two Alaska Airlines flight crews went through an emergency ditching test in front of FAA inspectors in a Seattle hangar. The specially trained crews had to get themselves and 25 passengers, played by nonflying employees, into a life raft during a simulated midocean ditching.

The crews were not given details of their emergency scenerio beforehand. The inspectors had the crew simulate a midflight ditching between Seattle and Maui.

Alaska Airlines passed the emergency ditching test, and if certified, the airline's pilots will be able to venture farther out to sea. Currently, Alaska's crews may not beyond 50 nautical miles from shore.

Bielawski said the open- water certification would also allow Alaska pilots to cut across large bodies of water to save time and fuel, as on its flights to Cancun, Mexico. Rather than trace a route along Mexico's mainland, as Alaska flights do now, future flights would hop over the Gulf of Mexico.

Daily News reporter Matt White can be reached at or 257-4350.