(BIVN) – After a making a presentation to the Hawaiʻi Island business community, Southwest Airlines executives answered questions from the audience Tuesday evening at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort.
The first comment – which came from Keller Laros, the founder of the Manta Pacific Research Foundation – set the tone for the Q & A session in which many wanted to know more about plans for interisland flights.
So far, the Dallas-based carrier has announced it will begin interisland service between Honolulu and Kona on May 12. Nothing has been announced for Hilo International Airport, at this time.
“I loved it when we had two airlines flying inter-island,” Keller said, “and I really think that we’ve missed having more opportunities to travel interisland, and more competition.”
Adam Decaire, Southwest’s Vice President of Network Planning, reiterated that there would be “no official announcements today,” but teased that he “did fly into Hilo this morning, and went through the airport,” and then drove from Hilo to the Kohala Coast. “It was a fantastic drive, I learned a lot,” Decaire said, adding that Southwest is “well aware of the airport and
what we think it can do.”
George Applegate, a Hawaiʻi Island tourism guru, told the executives that “this island is twice the size of all islands put together. If you fly from Kona to Maui – its about the same distance from Kona to Hilo.”
“I noticed that one thing you like to do is connect families with families,” said Applegate, who now works for the Grand Naniloa Hotel on Banyan Drive. “We’re off in the middle of nowhere. I mean, Hilo is a beautiful place. We need to have a way where we can travel, you know, affordably. As you plan ahead, please remember us in Hilo. Half the population on the island lives on that side, half on this side.”
Others, like Stephen Ueda, president of the Hilo-based Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hawaii, wanted to know about the future vision of the airline, and if the Hawaiʻi market “is it a launching pad to other things?”
Others wanted to know if Southwest might be able to grow the number of visiotrs to the island, which has taken a hit after the summer 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano.
“It was a lot of work to get our first flight here just a couple days ago,” Decaire smiled. “I know the state of Hawaii was working on that for about ten years. We’ve been officially working on that for the last three.”
“Initially, we want to connect people to the things that they love,” Decaire said, hesitant to share a vision that looks too far into the future. “The airline industry changes so rapidly, every time we’ve ever built a five-year plan or a six-year plan, it’s been wrong the very next day.”
“Hawaii is extremely important to us. People want to come, as you guys know. We want to make that affordable to everybody, to be able to go do that, and that is our number one focus.”
“We do have plans, we can’t make announcements today,” Decaire said, “but we do have plans to bring in mainland flights, directly. It won’t just be connecting service to and from in Honolulu to the mainland. It’ll be direct service as well, but we just can’t announce those at this point.”