Southwest Set to Operate First Hawaii Test Flight on Tuesday

Feb 4, 2019

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Southwest Airlines will take a massive step toward its much-anticipated Hawaii service on Tuesday.

The budget carrier has confirmed it will operate its first test flight to Hawaii on Tuesday, the next step it must take in order to get certified to fly over the ocean to the islands.

An airline flying twinjets, like Southwest does, needs to go through an Extended Range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration to launch flights over oceans. The certification, ETOPS for short, is essentially a multi-step process in which Southwest proves to the FAA that it can fly its twin-engine Boeing 737s over the Pacific Ocean for an extended period of time without a diversion airport available within a certain distance. Quick diversions and emergency landings are not an option in the expansive stretch between California and Hawaii, one of the longest swaths without an alternate airport of any flight route in the world.

Southwest told TPG that last Thursday it completed its Long Range Navigation (B037) Tabletop Exercises with the FAA, in which officials evaluate the airline’s manuals and training in regards to communication and navigation on the route to Hawaii.

“With the successful tabletop accomplished, I can now confirm that we are slated to perform a long range navigation and communication validation flight from Oakland to Honolulu on Tuesday, February 5, barring any unforeseen changes,” a spokesperson for the airline told TPG in an email on Monday.

The flight will only have FAA inspectors and crew members from Southwest’s ETOPS team, including ETOPS-trained pilots, and the goal is to demonstrate in real life Southwest’s long-range navigation and communication procedures and equipment. It is “not a regular, scheduled flight,” the airline emphasized.

Earlier this year, Southwest’s Hawaii plans were significantly stalled due to the US government shutdown. The airline had to put the process on hold while FAA inspectors were furloughed. The entire certification “typically takes 12-18 months to complete,” Southwest has said.

As TPG‘s Summer Hull reported in January, Southwest said to expect roughly a six-week to two-month window from when the FAA resumes the ETOPS process to when Hawaii operations can begin. So if that holds true, that would mean the airline’s Hawaii flights will be taking off with passengers sometime in very late March or April.

Next up in the certification process after Tuesday’s test flight, the carrier needs to perform more tabletop exercises with the FAA to demonstrate its full ETOPS procedures followed by additional ETOPS validation flights.

But it seems that Southwest will not begin selling Hawaii tickets until all the ETOPS steps have been successfully completed.

“Once we pass all phases of the ETOPS application process to the satisfaction of the FAA and receive our ETOPS authorization,” the spokesperson said, “we will announce further details of timing for selling and operating flights.”

Photo courtesy of Southwest.

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