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Southwest to fly to Kahului Airport

Airline, airport officials in talks about terminal slots

Southwest Airlines’ chairman announced Thursday that the airline intends to service four Hawaii airports, including Kahului Airport, with Maui officials saying they have been in discussions with the airline about the “pockets” of open slots at the crowded terminal.

Southwest announced in October that it intended to enter the Hawaii air travel market. In announcing the airline’s first-quarter report, Gary C. Kelly, chairman of the board and chief executive officer, announced the intent of the airline to fly into Daniel K. Inouye International, Lihue, Kona International and Kahului airports.

Marvin Moniz, Maui airports district manager, said Thursday that the airline will be flying 737-800 aircraft, the same as Alaska Airlines, and was hoping to begin service by the end of the year.

Southwest currently is focusing on obtaining its Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, he said. This would give the airline the green light from the FAA to fly over water.

This process can take a few months depending on scheduling of Southwest and FAA officials and staff, Moniz said. Crews fly planes to the Hawaii airports and conduct various flight and emergency maneuvers.

He said Southwest has not shared too much information about its plans because of competitive factors, but he believes the airline will announce a schedule once the ETOPS certification is completed.

Southwest and Kahului Airport officials have been in discussions about open slots at the terminal, “which isn’t much,” Moniz said.

“There are a few pockets of opportunity” and anytime from midnight to 5 a.m., which is not too desirable for airlines, he said. Peak times at the airport are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m., he said. There is availability in the 6 to 9 a.m. period.

There could be some openings with the completion of the merger of Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, Moniz said. He “sadly” announced the last flight of the Virgin America brand to Kahului Airport earlier this week. The airline began flying to Kahului Airport in December 2015.

Two years after Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America for $2.6 billion, the last Virgin America-branded flights took off Tuesday night, according to published reports. Alaska will be the sole brand and operator of the combined airlines.

While Alaska Airlines will be claiming some of those Virgin America slots, “it’s a void Southwest can fill,” said Moniz.

An update of the airport master plan last year showed 13 aircraft parking positions — three for interisland and 10 for Mainland flights — in the terminal. Kahului Airport is the second busiest airport in the state behind the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

When asked about the possibility of the airline flying interisland, Moniz said the airline appeared to be focusing on getting its initial West Coast flights to Kahului off the ground. During a conference call with investors, Kelly said the airline was seriously considering interisland service but that was a lower priority, Pacific Business News reported.

According to the airline, its 55,000 employees serve more than 115 million passengers annually. It has a network of 99 destinations in the United States and nine other countries.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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