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Despite the rumors, we knew Southwest wasn’t going to begin selling tickets to Hawaii on Valentine’s Day (as ‘LUV’-ly as that would have been). But we also know that lots of TPG readers have a Southwest Companion Pass and Rapid Rewards points burning holes in their pockets, so we want to keep a close watch on how close Southwest is to selling tickets to Hawaii. The answer — very close.

Southwest in Final Phase of Hawaii FAA Approval

Southwest has now passed the Extended Range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards (ETOPS) simulation and tabletop exercise phase of the FAA’s certification process to operate flights to Hawaii. That’s a big hurdle that was just recently cleared.

Now, the only major task left for Southwest to obtain certification by the FAA to operate flights over the Pacific to Hawaii are some additional validation flights. Southwest tells TPG, “We expect to operate one validation flight each day over multiple days until we complete this phase to the satisfaction of the FAA. It is not a set schedule and not one we’re sharing at this time as it can change from day to day.”

A spokesperson for the airline went on say, “Southwest’s first validation flight operated yesterday from OAK to HNL, flight 8725. We have an eastbound flight planned for today.”

A Southwest Airlines 737 800 flight lands for the first time at Honolulu International Airport, Tuesday, February 5, 2019, in Honolulu. (Marco Garcia/The Points Guy)
A Southwest Airlines 737 800 flight lands for the first time at Honolulu International Airport, Tuesday, February 5, 2019, in Honolulu. (Marco Garcia/The Points Guy)

As you may remember, the airline first flew to Hawaii with the FAA on Feb. 4, but that flight was considered a “long range navigation and communication validation flight.”

What’s Left?

The logical next question is how many of these flights does Southwest need to fly before the airline gets approval by the FAA? Southwest isn’t saying an exact number, but Mike Rioux, COO of JDA Aviation Technology Solutions, tells TPG, “Considering Southwest has been flying 737’s for more than 50 years we expect that their table top exercises would be 2-3 days max. The number of validation flights/hours is predicated on the test plan and the table top exercise results. Could be 40 flight hours or more maybe less. Only SWA and FAA know that answer.”

If 40 hours is anywhere close to the right range, and a round trip from the mainland to Hawaii is about 12 hours, then you’d only need a few days of these validation flights to hit that target.

Southwest Airlines crew celebrate their inaugural flight to Hawaii at the Honolulu International Airport, Tuesday, February 5, 2019, in Honolulu. (Marco Garcia/The Points Guy)
Southwest Airlines crew celebrate their inaugural flight to Hawaii at the Honolulu International Airport, Tuesday, February 5, 2019, in Honolulu. (Marco Garcia/The Points Guy)

On the airline’s earnings call on Jan. 24 (the day before the government shutdown ended), it was stated the airline expects roughly a six-week to two-month window from when the FAA resumed the ETOPS process after the shutdown to when Hawaii operations can begin. We are now roughly three weeks into that window, which means Hawaii flights could start in the next three to six weeks. Naturally, tickets would go on sale in advance of the first wheels-up date.

Bottom Line

Putting all of the known and estimated pieces together, if all goes well, it is likely we are now just days away from Southwest flying its last validation flight and receiving the necessary FAA certification to operate flights to Hawaii. That would mean we are also just days to potentially a week or two away from Southwest (finally) selling much-anticipated tickets to the Aloha State. The airline has repeatedly said it is ready for Hawaii and things will move quickly once final certification is received.

Get those booking fingers ready, because it won’t be long now.

Featured photo by Marco Garcia/The Points Guy.

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