Hawaiian Airlines will wait until 2014 before exploring the prospect of adding capacity between Brisbane and Honolulu despite a “terrific” first few months for the service.
Loads have hovered in the mid 80s since the three weekly flights launched last November, with encouraging yields, executive vice president and chief commercial officer Peter Ingram said.
“Overall we are really pleased with how the route is performing,” Ingram told Travel Today on a trip to Australia. “Brisbane has been a terrific start-up and we are really pleased with how it’s going.”
HA has made no secret of its intention to ramp up frequencies from Brisbane over time. It already operated 18 additional services between March and May.
But with the carrier’s 2013 fleet deployment already allocated, HA will have to wait until next year before examining any permanent increase in frequencies or upgauging from the current 264-seat B767 aircraft to a 294-seat A330.
“It is our long term aspiration to follow a similar path in Brisbane to what we have done in Sydney which is get the frequency to daily and on a bigger aircraft," Ingram said. "And we’ll do that as the market supports it and as our fleet availability supports it. It is something we’ll look at next year.”
HA is in the process of modernising its fleet, Ingram said, with its 767-300s being replaced with Airbus A330-200s, of which it currently has 13.
By the end of this year it will have more A330s than 767s and by the end of 2015 HA will operate 22 A330s and a maximum of eight of the smaller Boeing aircraft.
"We didn't take delivery of our first A330 until 2010 so we've been growing that fleet rapidly," he said.
The carrier will also continue to monitor further growth opportunities in Sydney, while Melbourne, in time, could become HA’s third Australian port, Ingram said.
“It is absolutely on the radar but we are always maintaining a long list of markets we are looking at and where there could be growth opportunities,” he said. “I’d love to have Melbourne. It’s on the list but not necessarily imminent.”
Sydney, meanwhile, has been able to sustain a “steady diet of increased” capacity increases over the past two and a half years with daily services and the larger A330 now operating on the route.
The market has now stabilised, Ingram said, with HA’s new Brisbane route and Jetstar services from Melbourne to Hawaii taking some of the business that had previously travelled through Sydney.
“But I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the growth,” he said. “We’d like to get to a point where we could increase frequency even further.”
Ingram declined to comment on the profitability of individual routes, only saying he was “really pleased with our Australian business”.
The carrier also reiterated its desire to deepen its relationship with Virgin Australia. The airlines codeshare between Sydney and Honolulu and interline on domestic Australian routes. The prospect remains of extending the codeshare agreement to Brisbane-Hawaii.
Ingram refused to be drawn on specific details but said talks are continuing “about a variety of things.”
“We enjoy the relationship we have with Virgin Australia and we would like to develop that further to our mutual benefit,” he said.
Meanwhile, the airline said it has yet to see a downturn in sales as a result of the weakening Australian dollar.
The airline has been “curious” to see if it would impact consumer’s holiday decisions but, so far, there has been “no evidence” of waning interest in Hawaii.
“One of things I have sensed in Australia is that the average Australian does not think they have got a devalued currency,” Ingram said.
At around 90c to the US dollar, the exchange rate is still historically high, he added.
HA will also continue to press home the benefits of entering the US mainland via Hawaii. Honolulu offers a less congested customs and border entry point than the “choke point” of Los Angeles, Ingram argued, with onward connections to 11 US destinations, including New York.
While close to 90% of HA’s passengers are travelling to Hawaii or a neighbouring island, supplementing that with additional revenue generated by through traffic to the US mainland remains crucial, Ingram said.
“This is a very competitive business. We make our profits on the margins, as all airlines do,” he said.
See tomorrow's Travel Today for part two of our exclusive interview with Peter Ingram.