Why Hawaiian Airlines just ferried most of its planes to the US mainland — without passengers

Jul 27, 2020

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It’s not often that you see a mass exodus of jets from a certain location.

In the wee hours after the Super Bowl ends, you typically see a slew of private jets departing from the airport closest to the stadium. When the coronavirus caused demand for air travel to plummet, airlines sent their planes en masse to storage hangers throughout the southwest.

And when a hurricane is about to hit its main hub, Hawaiian Airlines prudently sent most of its jets far out of harm’s way.

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If you’ve been wrapped up in coronavirus coverage, you might’ve missed that Hurricane Douglas is forecast to barrel through the Hawaiian Islands with wind speeds that are currently 90 miles per hour. The National Hurricane Center predicts damaging winds, flooding rainfall and dangerously high surf for much of the Aloha State.

The Category 2 hurricane is expected to make landfall around the night of 26 July and will likely cause damage to areas within its path.

And that path gets dangerously close to Hawaiian’s main hub, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Honolulu. So, in preparation, Hawaiian moved 54 of its 62 jets out of harm’s way.

A Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717. (Photo courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines)

The airline operates three different types of aircraft — the Airbus A321, Airbus A330 and Boeing 717. These jets could easily get damaged during the hurricane, especially since Hawaiian doesn’t have enough indoor hangar space for its entire fleet.

Related: 5 reasons to fly Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaii

Plus, according to Vice President of Flight Operations Bob Johnson, the hangars can only withstand winds of up to 130 miles per hour. Although Hurricane Douglas isn’t that strong, moving the fleet is a necessary precautionary measure.

The Boeing 717 is the inter-island workhorse for Hawaiian. Johnson mentioned that these single-aisle jets would be stored in Kona on the big island of Hawaii since the projections show that it should be the most protected from the storm.

Plus, the airport has “big runways, big taxiways and can hold a lot of aeroplanes so that factored into our decision”, Johnson told Hawaiian news outlet KITV. Additionally, flying nonstop to the mainland would be just at the high end of the range for the Boeing 717.

The Airbus A321 and A330 are the jets that primarily fly the airline’s international and mainland routes. They have the range to easily make it to the mainland, and that’s exactly where Hawaiian sent them.

Both fleets are currently spread across the West Coast. The Airbus A321s are in Oakland, Portland and Sacramento. The Airbus A330s are sitting in Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland and San Francisco. Two A321s and six A330s were still in Honolulu as of press time and are likely locked up in the hangars there.

The “mad dash” off the island has also caused Hawaiian to fly an interesting route. After an A330 flew on Friday from Honolulu to Seoul, the airline clearly didn’t want the plane heading back to harm’s way. So, instead of having the plane sit on the ground in South Korea or return to Hawaii, Hawaiian sent the jet nonstop to Los Angeles. Below was Hawaiian Flight 1330 en route from Seoul to LAX — quite an interesting and unusual route for the airline.

Screenshot courtesy of FlightAware
Screenshot courtesy of FlightAware

This is the first time since 1992 that Hawaiian Airlines has moved its planes off O’ahu. Twenty-eight years ago, Hurricane Iniki, a Category 4 storm, became the most powerful hurricane to strike the state of Hawaii, and the airline got its planes out of harm’s way. And now, as if 2020 couldn’t get any worse, the airline has to do it all over again.

Featured photo courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines 

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