Hawaiian’s Boeing 717s will fly for at least five more years. Then what?

Feb 1, 2020

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Hawaiian Airlines‘ Boeing 717s will keep flying through at least 2025.

Hawaiian operates 20 of the Boeings, which represent the backbone of the carrier’s inter-island fleet, CEO Peter Ingram said Thursday during the airline’s quarterly earnings call.

“There is no plane flying today that is better suited for the unique missions we fly in the Neighbor Island network than the 717 based on its size, economics and durability,” he said.

But, he suggested, the airline may begin to phase out those aircraft in about five years.

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While Hawaiian owns 15 of its 717s outright, five are leased. The airline extended those leases into 2025 at at the end of 2019.

“By extending our 717 leases to the middle of the decade, we are indicating that we are not planning to replace this fleet in the next five years,” Ingram said. It’s the first time the airline has publicly hinted that the end of its 717 era may be in sight.

When Hawaiian does retire those Boeings, industry watchers said the airline will likely replace it with the Airbus A220, though the Embraer E-Jet E2 is also an option.

“Most of their new aircraft are Airbus,” said Ahmed Abdelghany, associate dean for research at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s David B. O’Maley College of Business. Although Hawaiian has ordered a few Boeing 787s for long-haul routes, Abdelghany said it’s likely they’ll continue favoring Airbus aircraft overall.

Airbus A220-100 (Image by Airbus)
(Image courtesy of Airbus)

“I don’t think they’re going to go to the Embraer, and for me, it looks like they’ll most likely go into the CSeries,” he said, referring to the original name of the A220. “Customers love it as well.”

Hawaiian’s 717s seat up to 128 passengers with a range of up to 2,370 miles. Both the A220-300 and E195-E2 can seat a comparable number of passengers but have added range, the former being able to fly up to 3,885 miles and the latter up to 2,990 miles.

Airlines often try to avoid paying for added range or seating capacity that they do not need when buying aircraft. Hawaiian will have to weigh its inter-island needs — high-cycle and short stage-length flying — versus what both Airbus and Embraer, whose commercial aircraft business will soon to be majority-owned by Boeing, offer.

Abdelghany acknowledged that the A220 has a longer range than is strictly necessary for short-haul inter-island flights, but added that the jet is still one of the best next-generation jets for those missions.

“We never find aircraft that fit routes 100 percent,” he said. “There are always some sacrifices.”

While the A220 has quickly become a favorite for short- and medium-haul routes among frequent flyers since entering service with Swiss International Air Lines in 2016, the E2 is quickly winning converts. Brazil’s Azul recently announced plans to accelerate its shift to the E2 from older E195-E1s.

Azul has cited both improved economics — the operating cost of the E2 is more than a quarter lower per seat than the E1 — and an improved customer experience, including larger overhead bins and wider windows, for its embrace of the E195-E2.

Contributing: Edward Russell, TPG

The first E195-E2 delivery to Azul. (Courtesy of Embraer)
The first E195-E2 delivery to Azul. (Courtesy of Embraer)

Featured photo courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines.

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