Last week Friday, CNN broke some big Hawaii aviation news: Hawaiian Airlines is reconsidering its A330neo order.
Hawaiian Airlines currently has six Airbus A330-800neos on-order. The Airlines, however, had initially ordered the Airbus A350-800. But due to declining interest in the aircraft, Airbus decided to cancel the variant. And at the time, airlines had a choice to switch to the A350-900 or the A330neo -800 or -900. Hawaii, as we know, chose to change its order to the A330-800neo.
Since Hawaiian’s order for the A330-800neo back in 2014, no other airline has placed an order. This leaves Hawaiians six aircraft order as the only order for the type. And this, understandably, is causing some concern at Hawaiian. In fact, the lack of interest in the type has Hawaiian’s CEO, Mark Dunkerley, wondering if the aircraft is “the right airplane for us.”
Dunkerly goes on further saying “[w]e’re still a big believer in the [Airbus] program, but we also know that Boeing has some terrific alternatives which we’re also interested in looking at.” Specifically, Dunkerly is referring to the Boeing 787 and has said the Airline has open discussions with both Boeing and Airbus at the moment.
For its part, Airbus is continuing with development of the type. In fact, production of various portions of the aircraft are currently underway, with final assembly expected to begin near the end of the year. First flight of the A330-800neo will take place in early 2018, and flight testing should wrap up in about a year.
The A330neo, A350 and 787 are all different aircraft. However, the A330-800neo and 787-9 seem to share the most in common.
The 787-9 is very similar to the A330-800neo with slightly better performance overall. But, of course, the reason why Hawaiian ordered the A330-800neo (and the A350) in the first place was for commonality with their existing fleet of A330s and upcoming fleet of A321neos.
However, commonality means nothing if the A330-800neo line doesn’t survive long enough for Hawaiian to purchase additional aircraft if/when needed. And with only Hawaiian’s order for six frames, the A330-800neo’s future doesn’t look good.
The 787-9, on the other hand, is a blockbuster hit. Thus far, there have been over 600 orders for the 787-9 variant alone. So it’s safe to assume that the 787-9 will be around for a while. And future joint-venture partner Japan Airlines operates one of the largest fleets of 787s in the world. So maintenance costs could be further offset by this partnership.
While the focus of the article is Hawaiian’s long-haul aircraft, it did make mention of Hawaiian’s interisland fleet. According to Dunkerley, the Boeing 717-200 fleet is currently 15, 16, 17 years old, which will soon make them the oldest aircraft in Hawaiian’s fleet. However, their predecessor aircraft, the DC-9, were in use for nearly 40 years. So replacement aircraft for the inter-island fleet isn’t even a discussion item yet. Hawaiian intends to keep these aircraft flying for at least another decade and a half.
Plus, there’s the issue of durability and performance. At present, there aren’t any new aircraft that can handle the intense cycle rate of Hawaiian’s interisland fleet. In fact, Aloha Airlines had attempted to use newer Boeing 737s on its inter-island routes, but the CFM engines couldn’t take the abuse that the 737-200’s old Pratt & Whitney JT8Ds could.
Even if Hawaiian wanted to update its inter-island fleet, the only options available today are the Bombardier CS100 and CRJ 1000, the Embraer E195, and the Sukhoi Superjet 100.
Hawaiian Airlines is Reconsidering its A330neo Order, Final Thoughts
I’d love to see Hawaiian cancel its A330neo order and pick up some Boeing 787-9s. But I think the likelihood of this happening is very slim. Hawaiian’s move to open negotiations with Boeing is probably more of a strategic decision to give it a stronger negotiating position with Airbus. What their end goal is, though, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps Hawaiian feels it has bitten off more than it can chew and wants to delay deliveries? Or perhaps they really are just concerned about the longevity of the product line. Either way, I’d be shocked to see Hawaiian dump Airbus for Boeing.