HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Southwest Airlines completed a long-distance test flight to Hawaii on Tuesday, an indication that the carrier is getting closer to beginning its long-awaited service to the Hawaiian Islands.
The Southwest’s 737-800 arrived at Daniel K. Inouye International airport just before 3 p.m. Tuesday.
The test, known across the industry as an ETOPS test, is standard procedure for long-distance flights that are awaiting FAA clearance. ETOPS stands for “Extended-range, Twin-engined, Operation, Performance and Standards.”
A spokesperson for the airline tells Hawaii News Now that the test is meant to demonstrate long-range navigation and communication procedures, as well as the equipment onboard each aircraft designed for those procedures.
Aviation expert Peter Forman say the passing of the ETOPS test is a key element toward beginning service to Hawaii.
“Once they get the certification, they have to get the employees in place, they have to advertise the flights, so it all takes time, but a first quarter launch in service is definitely possible,” said Forman. “It looks like Southwest is moving right along.”
The airline’s ETOPS flights will be to Honolulu and Kahului.
“Once we pass all phases of the ETOPS application process to the satisfaction of the FAA and receive our ETOPS authorization, we will announce further details of timing for selling and operating flights,” the spokesperson said.
For Oahu-native and Southwest Airlines employee Larry Fisher, the airline coming to Hawaii meant an opportunity for him to finally move back.
“Southwest culture is similar to the Aloha culture,” Fisher said. “I’m in my 24th year with Southwest. When I moved to Las Vegas, I was hired right away and have been with them ever since, so this is a great opportunity to come back home.”
In December, the airline said that it was “close” to getting the extended twin-engine operations certification, but the shutdown of the federal government impacted the carrier’s ability to receive clearance.
Tourism industry experts say the airline’s arrival is welcome as it is expected to boost passenger traffic to Hawaii significantly and could possibly contribute to a record-breaking 10 million visitors in 2019.
Southwest plans to offer Hawaii flights from the West Coast as well as interisland service.
On Tuesday, the state Transportation Department also said it completed $26 million in improvements to G gate in Terminal 2 at Honolulu’s airport in anticipation of Southwest’s launch.
When service begins, Southwest’s biggest competitor will be Hawaiian Airlines.
Travelers Tasha and Marc Dayton were pleased to hear that Southwest would soon be servicing the islands, especially since traveling as a family just to the Big Island has been getting really expensive for them.
“I can’t wait,” Tasha Dayton said. “Hawaiian needs competition.”
Her husband, Marc Dayton, added the prices have "been getting ridiculous.”
“I’m really hoping Hawaiian will get its act together and, you know, bring the prices down to be what they used to be,” he said.
Hawaiian, meanwhile, has said its fares are competitive.