HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines has gained government approval to begin flights between California and Hawaii.
The announcement caps a more than year-long effort that was delayed by the government shutdown.
In a statement, Southwest said it’s still finalizing its plans for selling Hawaii flights and has not yet determined when tickets will go on sale.
“We’ll publicly announce our timing for selling tickets and inaugurating flights to the Hawaiian Islands in the coming days,” the company said, in the statement.
But the airline did confirm it plans to launch flights to Hawaii from four cities in California: Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento.
Southwest has also announced its intentions to offer inter-island service, though it’s not immediately clear when that will start.
In response to the announcement, Hawaiian Airlines said in a statement that it’s “proud to be Hawaii’s airline.”
“Our response today is really no different than it has been for the last several months: we successfully compete every day against the biggest airlines in the world with award-winning service, leading punctuality and unmatched value,” Hawaiian Airlines said, in the statement.
Passengers were happy with the Southwest news, saying they’re hoping that more competition means lower fares.
“I think it’s good. We’ll probably get cheaper flights, having a competitor to these guys," said Hawaiian Airlines passenger Charlton Ryan.
Oahu resident Noelani Couch said she’s anxious to see how Southwest will affect the market.
“There’s definitely going to be competition here for Hawaiian Air," she said. "Their flights are lower. They’re supposed to be lower. Let’s see what it does for the flights and to the flight industry.”
Aviation expert Peter Forman said at least initially, he expects fares to drop.
“It means that we have a new very aggressive carrier coming into Hawaii," he said. "When a new carrier comes in you have some fair sales typically. All in all, I think it’s going to make for some nice bargains for flying.”
Southwest Airlines needed FAA certification of its ability to operate long, over-water flights where the options for emergency landings are few.
In recent weeks Southwest has operated several test flights with FAA personnel on board to monitor such things as navigation and communications.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.