Southwest’s Hawaii Flights Could Be Delayed by Government Shutdown

Jan 8, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The nearly three-week partial government shutdown due to a standoff between US President Donald Trump and Congress on funding a border wall is taking a toll on federal aviation workers and air passengers alike.

Now, Southwest Airlines’ much-anticipated flights to Hawaii may become another casualty of the shutdown, because federal aviation regulators are running a bare-bones operation.

The Dallas-based budget carrier has been working toward its extended operations certification (ETOPS) with the Federal Aviation Administration for months. Now that non-essential FAA employees have been furloughed for the shutdown, that certification process has gone on hold. ETOPS is, in short, a certification needed for twin-engine commercial airplanes, such as Southwest’s Boeing 737s, to fly over large bodies of water. Without it, Southwest cannot legally cross the Pacific to Hawaii with passengers.  

“Certification projects are considered non-essential, so FAA will provide no support during shutdown,”Joe Del Balzo, a former acting head of the FAA and president of JDA Aviation Technology Solutions, told TPG. “FAA will slide [Southwest’s ETOPS] completion date to the right pending return to work.”

The FAA confirmed as much in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

“Employees who have a direct, imminent mission to ensure public safety, like air traffic controllers and the technicians who maintain the air traffic control system, remain on the job,” an FAA spokesperson told TPG in an email. “The ETOPS certification process is not a part of those duties being performed during the partial shutdown.”

In December, Southwest completed an important milestone in the ETOPS certification process, according to an internal memo dated Dec. 21, 2018, obtained by the Chicago Business Journal. “I am proud to report that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notified Southwest earlier today that the Extended Operations (ETOPS) procedures and manuals we submitted for review have been approved,” wrote the budget carrier’s chief operating officer, Mike Van de Ven, to employees in the memo. “This is a very important step in our journey to ETOPS authorization.”

But, as TPG‘s Emily McNutt noted earlier in January, even though Southwest has obtained approval for the ETOPS procedures and manuals, the airline still has to wait for several additional steps before launching Hawaii service. First, it has to prove its ETOPS procedures to the FAA in a formal tabletop exercise, before operating validation flights with FAA officials on board. Once complete, the airline will be able to launch its service from the US mainland to Hawaii.

It’s those additional approvals that will be put on hold during the government shutdown. Before the government shutdown, sources told the Chicago Business Times that the earliest service could begin would be March or April. So, it’s unclear if the delay caused by furloughed FAA workers will push Southwest’s Hawaii service even further into spring.

Southwest is staying tight-lipped on how the shutdown is affecting its Hawaii timeline. In a statement on Tuesday, the airline acknowledged it’s in the middle of the certification process, noting that obtaining ETOPS “typically takes 12-18 months to complete.”

“We still have additional steps to complete in the FAA’s ETOPS application process before we can receive ETOPS authorization and announce any timeline for service to Hawaii,” a spokesperson for the airline told TPG in an email. “Currently, we are monitoring the government shutdown while we continue working towards our goal of receiving ETOPS authorization.”

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.