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Sun Country Airlines, a low-cost carrier based in Minnesota, said on Tuesday it would expand its route network into Hawaii — an increasingly competitive market for budget airlines as behemoth Southwest is on the precipice of launching service to the islands.
The new Hawaii-bound flights will depart from San Francisco (SFO) for Honolulu (HNL) and will supplement Sun Country’s two existing routes to Honolulu, one from Portland, Oregon (PDX) and the other from Los Angeles (LAX). According to Bloomberg, the fares to HNL will start at $259 one-way, with the average cost of a one-way ticket around $339 during peak summer travel season, which Sun Country identifies as June 8 to mid-August. The airline operates Boeing 737s on its Hawaii routes.
Sun Country’s expansion no doubt puts more pressure on Southwest to launch its anticipated Hawaii flights, which have been delayed from the airline’s original rollout goal of “the end of 2018.” Southwest has been working on obtaining its extended operations (ETOPS) certification from the Federal Aviation Administration — the carrier’s last hurdle to entering the Hawaii market. The certification process“typically takes 12-18 months to complete,” the airline says.
But Southwest’s ETOPS process has been put on hold during the partial government shutdown, during which the FAA has stopped all “nonessential” work and certifications.
“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 on Tuesday. “The ETOPS certification process is not a part of those duties being performed during the partial shutdown.”
Sun Country’s new Hawaii route was part of a broader expansion of 19 new flights. The new routes, which the carrier said comprise its biggest expansion ever, include new flights from Las Vegas, Nashville, Dallas, Minneapolis and Portland.
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