ATRs Anchor Rebirth of Hawaii’s Island Air

 - August 13, 2012, 1:50 PM
Island Air expects delivery of as many as eight ATR 72s and ATR 42s by the end of next year.

As Hawaii’s Island Air enters a whole new phase of life this summer with the roll-out of a complete image and brand overhaul, half a world away Franco-Italian airframe maker ATR can add another regional carrier to its growing list of turboprop operators. By around the start of next month the long-time de Havilland Dash 8 operator officially begins the process of trading equipment allegiances with delivery of its first ex-American Eagle ATR 72-212, now undergoing a C-Check at Premier Aviation in Trois Rivieres, Quebec.

Speaking with AIN last week from her offices in Honolulu, Island Air CEO Leslie Kaneshiro said she expects the first airplane to start service in late October. Aircraft lessor Nordic Air Capital of Denmark has already sent the airline’s second ATR 72-212 to Quebec, where Premier plans to start the overhaul process directly after it finishes the first airplane. Island Air expects to take delivery of the second machine–also formerly operated by American Eagle–by year-end, followed by another five or six 46-seat ATR 42-320s by the end of next year. Most of the airplanes, said Kaneshiro, have not quite reached the mid-point of their lifespans.

Now operating a trio of Dash 8-100s and a Saab 340 wet leased from Alaska’s Peninsula Airways, Island Air retired its fourth Dash 8 in May when it reached the end of its 80,000-cycle lifespan. Two of its remaining three Dash 8s, all of which the airline plans to ground by the middle of next year, have also nearly reached their cycle limits. Kaneshiro explained that the availability of the ATRs convinced the airline to forego life extensions and to sell the one Dash 8 that hasn’t reached the end of its service life.

The expansion plans come some six years after a fare war involving Mesa Air Group’s go! subsidiary forced Island Air to retrench into what Kaneshiro called its core niche markets and slash the size of the airline virtually in half. Today, following the resulting demise of its former code-share partner Aloha Airlines and the return of a robust tourism market to Hawaii, Island Air has signaled its readiness for a revival. In fact, plans call for the fleet overhaul to more than double the airline’s total capacity, allowing it to grow beyond its peak size.

“We have seen over the past several years tourism and enplanements and seats into Hawaii keep growing,” said Kaneshiro. “For example, Allegiant just announced new service from Spokane, Washington, into Honolulu, and we’ve started to see that more and more. We know that Southwest is anticipated to come into Hawaii, and that’s all extra capacity coming in from abroad, and yet they don’t have a lot of options for inter-island connections.”

Now operating under code-share alliances with Hawaiian Air and United Airlines, Island Air hopes to enter new code-share deals, perhaps even with major airlines from Asia and Europe. “As visa restrictions get lifted and it’s easier for non-U.S. people to travel into Hawaii, we see that as a growing market,” concluded Kaneshiro.