Travelers will have more options for nonstop service to distant Asian and European cities as Hawaiian Airlines updates its fleet with as many as 24 new Airbus wide-body jets over the next 15 years.
The state’s largest airline said yesterday it will invest up to $4.4 billion to acquire the new jets. The investment is one of the largest by a locally based company and is worth more than five times Hawaiian’s assets of $877 million.
“This is a stunning deal,” said Scott Hamilton, a Washington-based aviation industry expert. “What this says to me is that they are starting a lot of long-range nonstop service from Hawai’i.”
Hawaiian said the deal with Airbus and engine maker Rolls-Royce includes an option to lease additional aircraft from Airbus that it could put into service as early as 2009.
Hawaiian didn’t identify specific new routes that it hopes to target. But the company confirmed that growth in the international markets is part of its long-term strategy.
“We’ll be able to open new markets … and contribute even more to the economy of our home state,” said Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian’s chief executive officer. Dunkerley said the new Airbus jets can travel nonstop from Hawai’i to Hong Kong and Singapore, for example.
Those two cities are not currently served by nonstop flights from Hawai’i, according to Expedia.com.
“We’re not going to challenge a 400-plus aircraft United Airlines, but in terms of airlines of our scale, this is an indication that we want to grow substantially,” said Dunkerley.
The new jets come as Hawaiian has expanded its service to the U.S. Mainland and north Asia.
In August, Hawaiian announced that it will begin flying four weekly flights to the Philippines early next year. In 2006, the company increased its capacity to the West Coast, adding 21 weekly flights.
The airline previously has expressed interest in flying to Shanghai.
Hawaiian plans to replace its existing trans-Pacific fleet of 18 Boeing 767-300 planes with the new Airbus jets, which not only have a longer range but also have more seats.
“They are seats that are dedicated to Hawai’i year in and year out that will further diversify and extend the reach of the state’s tourism interests and provide more local jobs,” Dunkerley said.
Under a memorandum of understanding with Airbus and Rolls-Royce, Hawaiian said it will acquire six wide-body Airbus A330-200 aircraft and six extra-wide-body A350XWB-800 jets.
Hawaiian said the agreement also gives it the right to purchase an additional six A330-200s and six A350XWB-800s.
Hawaiian said Airbus will deliver the first of its new A330-200s to Hawaiian in 2012.
The A330 has a range of 5,500 nautical miles. It can carry 305 passengers, 45 more than Hawaiian’s existing planes, and is more fuel-efficient.
The A350 can hold 322 passengers and has a range of about 6,900 nautical miles. That would allow Hawaiian to fly nonstop from Hawai’i to anywhere in North America, South America, Asia or Europe.
The first of the A350s will join Hawaiian’s fleet in 2017.
Hawaiian said it hopes to sign a definitive purchase agreement early next year.
The $4.4 billion deal is by far Hawaiian’s largest investment in its 78-year history.
Since emerging from bankruptcy in 2005, Hawaiian paid about $180 million to purchase seven Boeing aircraft and rework the lease of four others that are used on its West Coast service.
Shares of Hawaiian rose 26 cents to $4.88 on the American Stock Exchange yesterday.