Hawaiian launches New Zealand flights

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Twenty-eight years ago, the Hokulea landed in New Zealand as part of the Voyage of Rediscovery.

Today, a modern-day version of the Hokulea has launched its first voyage to Auckland Airport.

"Today's flight marks a continuation of a strategy to grow our network and grow our business and diversify," said Peter Ingram, Hawaiian's chief commercial officer.

For Hawaiian, it's the third new route in less than six months, which is pretty aggressive growth in the airline industry.

"Many of these places we're seeing new lift into -- for instance Korea, New Zealand or Australia  -- their economies are doing well and in many cases they have strong currency," said University of Hawaii economist Carl Bonham.

Hawaiian's latest expansion will provide a significant boost to the fast-growing New Zealand market, which brings in about 25,000 visitors each year.

The new flights won't create new jobs but the state projects that it will generate about $50 million annually in new visitor spending.

"It's good for them as a company to have a more diverse business model, and it's good for Hawaii because we're adding visitors from places we haven't seen in years," Bonham said.

Travelers say the new nine-hour flights are convenient. Hawaiian is the only U.S. carrier flying nonstop to Auckland, with three weekly flights.

"The last time I went to New Zealand it took me what -- 22 hours -- stop and go, stop and go," said Makaha waterman Brian Keaulana. "Going direct there is just perfect."

For some, the new service also provides an opportunity to restore ancient cultural ties:

"This flight and future flights are more than just planes taking us from one place to another," said Hokulea's captain Nainoa Thompson. "It's taking us back to our homelands. It's taking us back to our ancestors. It's taking us back to our family."

The inaugural Flight HA 446 took off around 11 a.m. with 230 passengers on board.

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