LOOKING TO ASIA
Hawaiian Airlines president and CEO, Mark Dunkerley, talks about business strategies and the importance of the Asian market to his airline.
What are your thoughts on the airline’s performance in 2014?
Last year was a great one for the company and we’re looking forward to an even better 2015.
The strategy we’ve employed since 2010 – and arguably even before that – has started bearing fruit. The airline has been profitable throughout this time despite the company doubling in size, but 2014 was the year when we really began to see the full effects of the strategy.
Hawaiian embarked on an ambitious growth strategy in Asia that started with the arrival of our Airbus 330-200 aircraft and has continued right through to the inauguration of our Beijing service early last year.
What is your route development strategy?
We sell Hawaii as a destination. We’re very fortunate to be based in an incomparably beautiful part of the world. So the aim is to bring to Hawaii all those people who want to come to Hawaii.
There is a natural focus on Asia because the spending power in that region is increasing all the time and Hawaii is often one of the first places that people want to visit. As for North America, our airline is well-established and obviously that is a strong market for us too.
Of course, our main strength is flying between the Hawaiian Islands. There are no bridges and no ferries transporting people on a convenient daily basis. So the people sitting on our aircraft can include high school athletic teams going off to compete against another school, or perhaps people flying to one of the larger islands for medical treatment.
The inter-island routes are big business. More people fly between Honolulu and Maui, for example, than between New York LaGuardia and Washington National.
How important is the Air China deal and what role will China play in your future network?
Our partnership with Air China is extremely important to us. The Chinese market to Hawaii is relatively small at the moment but it is growing rapidly and has the potential to be huge.
The Air China codeshare allows us to serve the market properly. Hawaii and Hawaiian Airlines are ideally placed to take advantage of the potential for air travel to/from China.
How far do your international ambitions go?
We’re certainly looking at Europe but the A330-200 doesn’t have the range to fly there non-stop, and if you make it a one-stop service it becomes very hard to differentiate your product.
As for Asia, we really are spoilt for choice. It is a good problem to have when you must choose between attractive alternatives. It may be that we will look at other destinations in China or we may decide to go to countries where we don’t have a presence at the moment.
Does your Honolulu hub need to improve – and if so, how?
A lot of work needs to be done at the airport, and I don’t think anybody would disagree. There is a multi-billion-dollar airport modernisation plan, which will largely be funded by the airline. This includes taxiway widening, which will enable several new projects including the construction of a new maintenance hangar and cargo facility for Hawaiian Airlines, and the addition of widebody gates to our terminal. It is the first major expansion at Honolulu International Airport in over 20 years.
Work is still in its early stages because of the RFP process and suchlike. Progress has been slower than we hoped for, but our enthusiasm for the project has not dimmed. But it is not just Honolulu. Maui, Hilo, Kona, Lihue, Lanai and Molokai airports are also in need of some updating.
What is it like to be a Brit living and working in Hawaii?
We’re all very fortunate to be living and working here. Hawaii is a fascinating place and by far the most culturally mixed environment I’ve ever experienced – more so than even the most cosmopolitan city. So I don’t stick out! The common element is hospitality, and the last thing I want to do is change that. So my job is to set a direction for the airline and keep out of the way to let our employees do what they do best.