Peter Ingram, Hawaiian Airlines CEO, on how the social and economic benefits that the carrier brings to the state of Hawaii is the result of hard work and careful planning

Hawaii’s chain of islands and Pacific location is both a challenge and an opportunity for Hawaiian Airlines. It must mix short and long-haul services to connect passengers and cargo to the world. New partnerships and new aircraft promise an even brighter future, but local infrastructure must keep pace with the carrier’s ambitions.

How will you build on an eventful year in 2018?

I’m proud of how my 7,200-plus colleagues overcame a trying operational environment in 2018, managing the challenges of natural disasters, higher fuel prices and capacity pressures to once again deliver one of the best financial performances in the industry while maintaining our leading punctuality.

We entered a new phase in our ongoing fleet renewal in early 2019 by retiring our final Boeing 767 aircraft. As the year progresses, we will welcome more Airbus A321neos, which will allow us to continue opening new mid-size markets while keeping costs down and freeing our A330-200s for more long-haul missions.

This year, we will also lock down uniquely Hawaiian elements for the interior features of the Boeing 787-9s we will begin flying in 2021.

Will the A321neo and the Boeing 787 make a big difference to the airline’s strategy and cost structure?

They are both exceptional aircraft with distinct attributes ideally suited for our medium-and-long haul transpacific missions. We are currently flying 11 narrowbody Airbus A321neos, which we began inducting in late 2017, to serve mid-size US West Coast-to-Hawaii markets. We plan to have 18 A321neos by 2020.

Choosing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was a long-term decision as we look at our future network needs in places like Boston, New York, Tokyo, Australia and beyond. It combines excellent comfort for our guests with fantastic operational performance.

Many 787 design elements provide a more enjoyable environment for our guests, including the extra-large windows, the higher ceilings, larger overhead baggage bins, and the composite airframe, which will allow us to pressurize the cabin to the equivalent of a much lower altitude. Customers of the 787 have said this makes them feel less tired and jetlagged.

Like the A321neo, it is also an ultra-efficient aircraft with low fuel burn, which reduces emissions and helps us keep fares affordable.

“Short and long-haul services provide a bridge to the world for both passengers and cargo”

Why the partnership with Japan Airlines? What will it bring to the passenger and the airline?

The connections between Hawaii and Japan are long and deep. The passion for each other’s culture is strong and enduring. In 2010, we became the first US carrier to start Haneda service and have been the only US airline to have uninterrupted service since that time.

Japan Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines are well-matched premium brands focused on exceptional customer service. Our proposed joint venture will expand our codeshare and frequent flyer partnership, enhancing our value proposition for guests flying between Japan and Hawaii.

Hawaiian Airlines guests would enjoy enhanced access to 34 new destinations throughout Japan, including Nagoya and Okinawa, and other Asian countries. Japan Airlines customers, in turn, will have access to our neighbor island networks as well as our non-stop flights to Honolulu from Haneda and Sapporo.

Is it difficult to manage an island-hopping operation alongside long-haul, full-service flights, especially given the different OEMs involved in your fleet?

We are not new to operating a mixed fleet, having flown the Airbus A330s (and now A321neos), along with our Boeing 717s (and the retired 767s) for quite some time. So, we are set up for it. They are the best aircraft for our various network needs and our guest preferences. There are, on average, 202 flights every day between the six main islands in our archipelago. Coordinating aircraft and staffing schedules, allocating resources and choreographing connections for our neighbor island and transpacific networks is a daily challenge, but also what makes our business so exciting.

Is Honolulu airport aligned with your growth plans?

Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport remains our core hub, and we are eager to see the completion of the airport’s ongoing expansion to add gate capacity in Terminal 1, from which we operate most of our flights.

As we expand our airport footprint, we are focused on making travel effortless by investing in both guest-facing and internal systems and infrastructure to enhance the travel experience from the moment our guests purchase a ticket to when they arrive on our islands and return home.

This includes ongoing improvements to our airport operations such as the recent lobby expansion in Honolulu and a new bag scanning program, but also the integration of online chat and messaging into our customer contact channels, and a new mobile application we launched last month.

Honolulu airport is not everything we would hope for today, but we believe the plans in place to improve capacity and the passenger experience can put our airline and our guests in a much better position over the next couple of years.

Beyond O‘ahu, Kahului Airport on Maui has become a valuable second hub for us, especially as we have increased non-stop flights from the US West Coast to Maui, as well as Kaua‘i and the Island of Hawaii.

7200: I’m proud of how our 7,200 staff overcame a trying operational environment in 2018, managing challenging natural disasters, high fuel prices and capacity pressures to achieve one of the industry’s best performances

How important is the airline to Hawaii’s economy?

We are very proud of the essential role we play in supporting economic activity in Hawaii.Tourism, as the state’s dominant industry, creates and supports most jobs, and we are the number one carrier in terms of domestic and international passengers transported to, from and within the islands.

Locally, the absence of surface transportation between the islands means that we serve a much broader slice of the population than you’d see elsewhere.

Our neighbor island schedule is built to offer convenience to our visitors and community, with the first flights departing Honolulu as early as 5am and returning as late as 11pm.

We carry patients going to see their doctors, a mechanic called to fix a tractor, and it’s very easy for a Hilo resident to make a lunch business meeting in Honolulu and still be home for dinner with the family.

Last year, we started an all-cargo operation between the islands, hiring approximately 75 full-time employees and investing in new aircraft to complement our existing Boeing 717 cargo service.

This means that we can now more seamlessly move containerized cargo from our larger jet planes into the turbo-prop ATR-72s. We are currently flying two and plan to have four by the end of  the year.

Our new cargo facility with vast refrigerated space enables our island customers to ship perishable items without worrying about spoilage. No one thinks about how that gallon of milk got on the supermarket shelf or how the Hawaiian papayas got to New York—or how critical blood supply reached the hospital on time—but the chances are very good that we had a role in it.

It is also important to note that while other airlines serve Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines is the only national or international carrier based in Hawaii.

As a result, while other carriers may employ ground staff in the state, we are unique in employing pilots, flight attendants and management staff here in Hawaii, contributing to the community and the tax base.

Is aviation winning the environmental battle or is there a lot more work to do?

The industry is taking steps in the right direction, but we can always do more.

As an airline headquartered in a beautiful island chain in the middle of the Pacific, we are mindful of our environmental impact, which we seek to minimize through our constant investment in efficient aircraft and engines, where we can realize the most impact.

We have numerous recycling, energy conservation and fuel reduction initiatives, including single-engine taxiing and the use of gate-provided electricity to more cleanly power our aircraft while on the ground. We also recently conducted demonstration flights to Honolulu from Brisbane and Auckland using a series of gate-to-gate operational best practices outlined by the Asia and Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions (ASPIRE)—strategies that we seek to use on every flight whenever possible.

As a destination airline, we partner with local nonprofits and other businesses that share our commitment to protecting our fragile natural resources, including native species and our reefs. More broadly, we fully support the Carbon Offset Reduction Scheme for International Aviation’s goal to establish a cap on international aviation emissions.

1929: Hawaiian Airlines was founded in 1929 as Inter-Island Airways

64 aircraft make up the Hawaiian Airlines fleet

41 destinations served by Hawaiian Airlines across three continents

14: Hawaiian Airlines has been the number one carrier in the US for on-time performance for the past 15 years

You’ve been at Hawaiian for many years. Does a CEO need a solid background in the airline before taking the helm?

I think it depends on the CEO and the situation. Certainly, ours is a complex industry, and prior experience in aviation before stepping into the CEO role is very valuable.

At the same time, I can imagine a situation where bringing in an executive with perspectives from a different industry can provide new thinking. What’s most important, I suppose, is that the CEO and the rest of the management team complement one another, such that an industry-veteran CEO avails him or herself to non-airline perspectives and an outsider CEO has counsel from industry veterans.