I’m back! Just kidding. I’m still on a blog break. Keep reading about my visit with Hawaiian. Regular posts resume on July 3.
Part of the reason I accepted the invitation to go on the Hawaiian inaugural flight from Long Beach was because they were able to set me up with a few interviews while I was in Honolulu. Of greatest interest to me was a visit to the new cargo and maintenance facility. It took years to build (I’ll have more on dealing with the state and its airports Thursday), but it’s finally open. This means Hawaiian can really ramp up its cargo and maintenance operations. Or at least it can stop working in the awfully cramped conditions it had to deal with previously.
[Disclosure: Hawaiian provided my flights and one night hotel in Honolulu]
This is Hawaiian’s old maintenance and cargo facility.
It looks small, but it’s even smaller than you think. Hawaiian only occupied the left (mauka) side. The other side was Aloha’s. And yes, Aloha the passenger carrier may have disappeared a decade ago, but Aloha Air Cargo continues going strong. The old hangar couldn’t even fully cover a 717, let alone get close to accommodating a widebody. Hawaiian knew for years that it needed something new.
When the airport lurched forward toward modernizing, it became quickly apparent that the old hangar would have to go away. In its place will be improved taxiways to facilitate aircraft movement over to the new Mauka Concourse which I’ll talk about more later this week. The state agreed to build a replacement facility for Hawaiian, but it took forever. Eventually it took so long that the airline just took over the project so it could get it done.
On the southern (makai) side of the facility lies the cargo operation. I had the good fortune of being escorted around by Steve Cunningham, Director or Cargo Ops, and Pilialoha Wang, Senior Manager of Cargo Sales.
Air cargo is hugely important in Hawai’i since there aren’t roads or rails to allow trucks and trains to do the job. And before this facility, Hawaiian was bursting at the seams. When I arrived, there were several people waiting in the customer service area to either send or receive shipments. But the small waiting area hides the enormous hangar behind. Inside, there is a ton of space for both incoming and outgoing shipments.
As was the case when I visited Alaska last year, much of what gets shipped is seemingly mundane. For example, we saw a huge crate full of Love’s bread ready to head out to the other islands.
Love’s is the big bakery in Hawai’i, and it sends multiple bread shipments on the 717s to the other islands all day long to keep things fresh.
Outside, we found Hawaiian’s newest experiment, its first ATR-72 in all-cargo configuration which will be operated by Empire, the same company that operates ‘Ohana by Hawaiian regional flights today.
Hawaiian has 2 ATR-72s on the property now with a total of 5 coming. One will remain a spare, so when the fleet starts flying cargo on June 27, only one aircraft will be scheduled with the other as a backup. If that sounds inefficient, just wait. To start, it will only fly at night with one roundtrip to Hilo followed by a second to Lihu’e every day. Why so few? That’s just how the airline is starting off, but if demand grows, then it will too. And why at night? Well, that’s where the demand is that Hawaiian can’t serve well today.
For long-haul flights, Hawaiian relies on the bellies of its A330 fleet. Those airplanes can carry 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of cargo. The new A321neos can only carry about 2,000 pounds, so those aren’t a big part of the equation. While 2,000 pounds sounds puny, it’s also about the max a 717 can carry on interisland flights (on a good day). Those interisland flights, however, are so frequent that it adds up to a fair bit of capacity throughout the day.
So what was missing? Well, the 717s couldn’t carry big or heavy shipments between the islands. For that, shippers had to rely on all-cargo operators Aloha and Transair. Hawaiian has worked with them, but it wanted to be able to carry some of that cargo itself. So it bought the ATRs, and those can carry much larger loads than the 717s can when full of passengers. Those big loads aren’t time-sensitive in the way, say, Love’s breads are, so the aircraft will fly at night when the skies are quiet. This also allows customers to drop things off after normal work hours and still get them on an airplane that night.
Hawaiian likes the ATR because it’s more flexible than the 737s that are primarily flown by competitors. (Yes Transair flies Shorts 360s, but it sounds like those primarily move mail.) ATRs are smaller, but they are less expensive to operate. Hawaiian is planning on testing the charter market to see how it can best utilize the fleet going forward.
Back in the hangar, I walked past rows of cubicles to get to the other side. That’s where I met Jim Landers, SVP Technical Operations. We walked past a screen full of security camera s (far better for security and something they didn’t have before) and then we stopped at a window with this beautiful site.
That 717 was in for a C check, but while the old hangar couldn’t hold one, this one can have up to 5 at a time if needed. (It can also have 2 an A350. It was designed when they still thought that was the airplane that would be coming on property. Don’t worry, a 787 fits too.)
Hawaiian handles all of the maintenance on its 717 fleet up through the heaviest of checks. The 717 was only supposed to last for 60,000 cycles, but Hawaiian started to run into those limits. Boeing extended the life of the airplane, but it required Hawaiian to do even more major checks starting at 60,000 cycles to ensure they can keep flying. Jim said they were initially nervous at what they’d find, but these Douglas-built aircraft lived up to their reputation. They were in great shape, and they have at least another 8 to 10 years. (Hawaiian still has no idea what to do after that time, because no other airplane flying today is built to run this short-haul, frequent flight environment.)
We headed down into the facility and walked past the tool cage. Apparently the airline used to be quite inefficient in its procedures. For example, people would have to wait in line to get supplies, and it would take a long time before they could actually start being productive. Now, the tool cage is automated. Every tool has an RFID tag on it, and technicians swipe in and then check out with the tools they need. No more lines.
Inside, the airplane looked like a mess. But apparently much of the work had already been done on this bird, and they were just putting it back together.
On the other side of the airplane, there was a row of fuel tanks.
While Hawaiian does all the maintenance on its 717s, it still doesn’t paint them. So it loads the 717s up with these tanks to get them back to the mainland. Beyond that, we walked into side rooms where they do a variety of work on different parts. One of those rooms was where they store the seats while they finish doing maintenance on the rest of the airplane.
The widebodies are different in that Hawaiian hasn’t historically done much maintenance on those. Delta handles most of the work for now, but Hawaiian has been building up its maintenance practices. It’s likely to eventually end up with Part 145 certification as a repair station to be able to do heavier maintenance for other airlines.
We walked out and around to the part of maintenance that gets overlooked: ground equipment. Hawaiian has a full multi-bay ground service shop so it can maintain its equipment. You always think about the airplanes, but you rarely think about things like this.
The collective wisdom in the facility is astounding. Jim told me, as we walked back toward the entrance, that about half the workforce has more than 25 years of experience. After so many years, they must be thrilled to finally have a better place to do their jobs.