Hawaiian Air CEO lauds Ige’s decision regarding foreign travelers

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A Hawaiian Airlines flight approaches Hilo International Airport on Wednesday.

“The beginning of the beginning.”

That’s how Hawaiian Airlines’ president and chief executive officer described Gov. David Ige’s announcement that vaccinated international travelers who also test negative for COVID-19 can fly to Hawaii starting next week.

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Peter Ingram made that observation during a livestream Wednesday, a day after Ige announced the state will comply with an order signed by President Joe Biden that broadly opens up the U.S. to foreign visitors starting Monday.

Ingram said he was “pleased to see the governor’s announcement.”

“I thought it was important that we align our policies in Hawaii with those federal rules, so we weren’t confusing travelers with one set of rules for entry into the United States and another set of rules for entry into Hawaii, particularly since everyone is going to be vaccinated,” Ingram said. “I think the federal rules are good, and I’m glad we clarified that.”

Ingram said he thinks “conditions are falling into place for more of an international travel recovery.”

“If you think about places that are a big source of visitors to Hawaii, particularly Japan — which is by far the largest international source, but also Australia and South Korea — the vaccination rates over the past several months have improved incredibly in those places,” he said. “… They all have a fully vaccinated rate ahead of the U.S. average now. They are more in the range of where we are in Hawaii, with about 70% of people or more fully vaccinated.”

Hawaiian Airlines recently announced it will be restarting its route to Sydney, Australia, five times a week starting in mid-December, but Japan still has quarantines in place for its citizens returning from international travel, so it could be a more protracted return to normalcy for the formerly robust visitor market from that country.

Despite that, Ingram expressed guarded optimism about the return of Japanese tourists.

“Japan in the last few days has started to gradually make some policy changes around international business travel,” he said. “We’re hopeful that is a leading indicator of policy changes regarding Japanese leisure travel, which obviously is important to us in Hawaii.”

Asked for a timeline, Ingram said he’s hoping to “gradually restore our schedule with Japan over the course of the first quarter and into the second quarter” of 2022, and head into summer “with a full schedule … and daily flights to multiple cities in Japan.”

Hawaiian Airlines released its third-quarter financial report last week, reporting a net income of $14.7 million and an adjusted net loss of $48.7 million. The company reported total revenue of $508 million, down 33% compared to the third quarter of 2019, on 21% lower capacity.

“International was 25% of our revenue before the pandemic, and over the last several quarters, 95% of that has been missing,” Ingram said.

Ingram said the nation’s 10th-largest air carrier has “raised cash to make sure we’ve got more than enough liquidity to get us to the other side of this crisis.”

“For us, a big part of getting back to full profitability is getting the international part of the business back,” he said. “By July, we had seen domestic recover very strongly, particularly from the U.S. mainland, but also seeing some recovery here in flying within the state.

“That took a setback with the Delta variant over the last couple of months. But as we’ve seen the bookings recover, we’re confident that we’re going to get back to where we were in summer … in terms of demand levels.

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“So we really need to get that part of the business going. I’m encouraged that’ll happen over the course of the next couple of quarters, And by the time we’re into the summer of next year, we should have a fully functioning, profitable business again — or at least be in a position if … we do things we need to do as a business, we’ve got the environment that allows us to succeed.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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