Finally, a strong summer for US airlines

By Howard Dicus - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At a time when Hawaii needs healthy airlines to fly as many seats as possible to the islands, every major US air carrier is reporting strong summer results.

Of seven airlines with flights from the West Coast to Hawaii, six reported higher August traffic than at the same time last summer. Their results in brief:

  • Delta Air Lines, the world's largest carrier after its acquisition of Northwest, flew 1.1% more traffic on 1.2% more capacity, though its domestic traffic and capacity were down slightly. Delta flies to Hawaii from Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities.
  • American Airlines, second biggest, flew 3.1% more traffic on 3.2% more capacity, with fractional increases in domestic traffic and seats. American serves Hawaii from Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
  • United Airlines, third biggest, flew 2.5% more traffic on 1.7% more capacity, and, significantly, said its revenue per available seat has been up 18% from last year. United flies to Hawaii from Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Osaka.
  • Continental, the lone exception to the higher traffic trend, was still close, flying 0.4% less traffic on 1.1% less capacity, so it flew fuller and more profitably than it did a year ago. Continental, soon to merge with United if final federal approval is not withheld, flies here from Newark, Houston, Los Angeles and Guam.
  • US Airways, including the former America West, flew 0.8% more traffic on 1.2% more capacity. US Airways, sometimes mentioned as a potential American Airlines acquisition (though American does not confirm such interest) flies most of its Hawaii passengers from Phoenix.
  • Southwest Airlines flew 6.4% more traffic on 3.7% more capacity. The nation's biggest discount carrier does not fly to Hawaii and does plan to, since it would have to make major changes to its jet roster, spare parts inventory, maintenance program and training schedules.
  • Hawaiian Airlines, which flies more seats from the mainland to Hawaii than any carrier except United, flew 14.3% more traffic on 11% more capacity. Hawaiian has been expanding both domestic and international capacity.
  • Alaska Airlines flew 10% more traffic on 7.1% more capacity, almost entirely because it shifted so many flights to Hawaii that 15% of its capacity now winds up in the islands. Alaska is roughly twice the size of Hawaiian Airlines.

Hawaii economists say the state tourism slump basically began in early 2008 when Aloha Airlines and ATA Airlines each closed down permanently in a three-day period. Some of that capacity has yet to be replaced. But this summer has seen 5% more seats to the islands than were present a year ago. Economists say Hawaii needs airlines to keep flying those seats here, therefore the state needs airlines to be healthy.

The third quarter - July, August and September - is always the most profitable for airlines. And Hawaii hotels typically report their highest occupancy rates in June, July and August. So hoteliers, tourism marketers and economists are watching to see what happens to airline traffic in "shoulder season," now beginning, when even the best years show some falloff once schools open, closing the family vacation window.

Predicting this is harder than it used to be because more consumers wait until a couple weeks before vacation to book their air travel and hotel reservations.

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