Hawaiian ushers in new era

When Mark Dunkerley took the reins of Hawaiian Airlines back in 2005, the job looked a thankless one, writes Steve Jones.


by Steve Jones

When Mark Dunkerley took the reins of Hawaiian Airlines back in 2005, the job looked a thankless one. The carrier had just emerged from bankruptcy, was suffering perennial losses and, according to the CEO himself, “was a byword for inefficiency”.

Furthermore, its operational performance was dire and its product “threadbare”.

Hardly a job for the faint hearted.

But over the past decade, Dunkerley, who joined the airline in 2002 as chief operating officer just before it filed for bankruptcy, has led a successful turnaround that has seen the carrier regularly top punctuality tables, double its revenue, build a 22-strong A330 fleet and expand its international routes to Asia.

And last month management unveiled the latest product development; lie flat seats in its business class cabin.

It will, claimed Dunkerley, “usher in a new era of premium service in Hawaii” that will drive up yields and “underscore our mission to be the premier destination carrier”.

In addition, the carrier will increase the number of extra comfort seats, a class of travel it introduced last year, from 40 to 68.

Speaking to journalists at its inaugural global media day, where HA provided a behind-the-scenes glimpse of its spacious Honolulu headquarters, Dunkerley described the transformation as “unimaginable”.

“The company has come a long, long, long, way,” he said. “I can’t tell you how different the first five or six years were to where we are now.”

So is he surprised just how far the carrier has come?

“Oh yeah,” he exclaimed. “I remember in 2008 making the order for six A330s and thinking ‘God, where the hell are we going to fly all those?’ Come next summer we will have 23 of them with an order for 16 Airbus 321s.”

Those 321 aircraft, which typically have 185 seats against the A330’s 294 (although that will fall to 278 when the lie flat beds are installed) will start arriving in 2017 and will operate to the US west coast, freeing up more A330s for longer haul routes.

Among those longer sectors, of course, are the flights to Australia, a market which has played a major role in HA’s story.

The carrier began Sydney flights in 2004 and last month announced its local operation was now deserving of an in-house commercial team that will assume the duties carried out for many years by World Aviation Systems.

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Sydney, which is served daily, and Brisbane with four weekly flights, are expected to be among the first routes to see the lie flat business seats when they are progressively fitted on its A330 fleet from the second quarter of 2016. Dunkerley made clear that further expansion of its Australian route network was in its plans.

“Australia has grown tremendously over the years. There is a bit of a pause in terms of outbound growth associated with the domestic economic situation but long term we are bullish,” Dunkerley told travelBulletin.

“We are not announcing any firm plans yet but neither are we talking down the prospects that we will increase services to Australia. The question [of additional flights] is more a case of when, not if.”

Also on its radar is a deepening of its relationship with Virgin Australia, a scenario that would help it achieve another goal, that of increasing traffic behind the gateway cities.

Hawaiian is up against Qantas and, in particular, Jetstar in the local market with the latter targeting the price conscious traveller.

But the airfare battleground is not one Dunkerley is keen on fighting, nor does he feel the need to, arguing Australian travellers are becoming increasingly savvy in their approach to the add-ons of low cost flying.

“Jetstar has certainly forced us to think about our product and our price point but we have discovered people coming to Hawaii are not necessarily looking for the cheapest price,” he said. “I think consumers are becoming increasingly well educated about the difference between an all-in price where you get a meal, a glass of wine and blankets, verses an item-by-item price that all adds up.”

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