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CEO: Hawaiian Airlines staying aloft, despite challenges

LIHU‘E — Hawaiian Airlines leadership charted the company’s continuing recovery and adaptation to the coronavirus pandemic during a Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce luncheon held Thursday.

President and CEO Peter Ingram described an airline devastated in the pandemic’s early days, that has nearly recouped its domestic market while awaiting the return of international travel.

“A $2.8 billion business in 2019 had been shrunk to almost zero revenue (in early 2020),” Ingram told guests gathered at the Kaua‘i Beach Resort &Spa.

County and state politicians, including Mayor Derek Kawakami, state Rep. Jimmy Tokioka (Kaua‘i’s Eastside and South Shore) and state Senate President Ron Kouchi (Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau) were among those in attendance.

According to Ingram, domestic traffic between Hawai‘i and the U.S. mainland surpassed 2019 figures in June and July 2021, before the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus created “a rollercoaster” in the second half of the year.

“Domestic demand has fairly fully recovered,” Ingram said. “But for neighbor islands, demand is taking a little bit longer.”

Ingram stated he believes certain subsections of inter-island travel may not return to pre-pandemic volumes, as a result of new norms. He pointed to the present ubiquity of virtual conferencing platforms to explain the potential dip.

“One of the things that Zoom and Microsoft Teams have allowed is for people to do things like telehealth far more effectively than they could before,” he explained. “That may mean fewer people from the neighbor islands travel to O‘ahu for medical care.”

On the international front, Hawaiian Airlines has resumed flights to American Samoa and Australia. Flights to South Korea and Japan occurred throughout the pandemic, although most of these journeys supported cargo.

Japan represents both the company and state’s most important international visitor market by far, according to Ingram, who noted the Japanese market remains “deeply, deeply depressed.”

The business leader advocated global vaccination as the key to reopening the world, and touted his own company’s dedication to health and safety.

Ingram also touched on sustainability, announcing Hawaiian Airlines is committed to going carbon-neutral by 2050.

“I’m mindful of our company’s impact (on the environment),” he said, claiming Hawaiian Airlines burns 250 million gallons of jet fuel a year, at its peak.

Hawaiian Airlines must return to pre-pandemic heights to survive long-term, Ingram concluded, describing a challenging-yet-optimistic future for the company, which took a $1.2 billion loan from the federal government to stay aloft.

“They need us to pay that money back, and we’ve got till 2025 to do it,” Ingram said. “We will pay it back, and we’ll make sure that we’re going to be able to support the people who supported us in the difficult period of the last couple of years. But we’ve got to get back to operating at full scale to get there.”


Scott Yunker, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or
Source: The Garden Island

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