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Southwest Airlines still bullish on Hilo market

  • Ramp workers prepare a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 for departure on July 14 at Minneapolis International Airport in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Southwest Airlines’ highly anticipated flights to and between the Hawaiian Islands likely will not begin until the start of 2019 and possibly considerably later.

Brad Hawkins, spokesperson for Southwest Airlines, said the airline currently is undergoing an application process with the Federal Aviation Administration, which he described as “a huge undertaking of 12-18 months.” Because the process began in January, it might be summer of 2019 before the application is approved.

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Southwest announced its plans to offer Hawaii flights in 2017 and included interisland flights in those plans earlier this year.

The planned flights include flights between four Hawaii airports and four airports in California.

The Hawaii airports include Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Ellison Onizuka International Airport in Kona, Kahului Airport on Maui and Lihue Airport on Kauai.

The California airports include Oakland Metropolitan Airport, San Diego International Airport, Mineta San Jose International Airport and Sacramento International Airport.

However, the specific routes to and from each airport haven’t yet been determined, said Ross Birch, president of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

Birch said he has received no information about when FAA approval might occur, but explained that the airline will be able to start flights as soon as six weeks after approval. He also said he expects the airline to prioritize service to Honolulu and Maui, and might start flights to Kona and Kauai after flights to the former two locations.

Hawkins said the airline also is “very interested” in flights to Hilo, and Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s senior vice president of operations and hospitality, said in May that Hilo is “very much on our radar” and called it “critical” for interisland offerings.

“It’s going to bring a whole new kind of customer,” Birch said. “We could see the majority of their business travelers.”

Birch said Hawaii will be a prominent addition to Southwest’s range of “exotic” destinations, which predominantly include Mexico and the Caribbean.

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“They’re just as excited as we are,” Birch said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com