Hawaii’s Island Air signed a letter of intent with Chicago’s Aerway Leasing last month to lease five ATR 42s, the first two of which the airline expects to arrive in Honolulu by the end of this year and the final three next summer.
By press time Island Air continued to wait for delivery of its first of a pair of ATR 72-212s leased from Nordic Aviation Capital of Denmark. The former American Eagle airplane remained at Premier Aviation in Trois Rivieres, Quebec, where delays involving a C Check, the exact nature of which Island Air and its public relations firm declined to specify, disrupted the airline’s plans to place it into service by the end of this month. Revised schedules called for delivery of the first airplane by the end of last month, the second following by the end of the year.
Still operating a trio of Dash 100s and a Saab 340 wet leased from Alaska’s Peninsula Airways, Island Air launched what it described as a complete image and brand overhaul over the summer meant to culminate with the change in fleet type this fall. The airline, in effect, started the process with the retirement of a 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, are also close to reaching their cycle limits.
Speaking with AIN in August from her offices in Honolulu, Island Air CEO Lesley 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 servicelife. Most of the ATRs, she said, have not quite reached the midpoint of their lifespans.
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.