Southwest cleared a major hurdle in its much-anticipated plan to start flights from California to Hawaii: After months of delays, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave the airline permission to operate its twin-engine 737 planes on long flights over the ocean.
That means the airline can start selling tickets and advertising the service; in a statement, Southwest said that it will reveal more details of its service in the next few days. The airline has already announced that it intends to fly to the Hawaiian Islands from four cities in California: Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento. In addition to Honolulu, it will also serve Maui, the Big Island and Kauai. The carrier will also operate interisland flights.
In recent weeks, the airline flew test flights from Oakland to Honolulu with FAA inspectors to review navigation and maintenance on the planes that will be dedicated to the new service. That was necessary because flights from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii operate far from the nearest airport, even those that are designated as diversion airports in the case of an emergency.
For Southwest, the approval was a bright spot in what has otherwise been a rough few weeks. The airline has been experiencing maintenance-related delays and cancellations, which have been blamed, in part, on a standoff with the carrier’s mechanics. The company and the union representing the airline’s maintenance workers have been negotiating for six years without a new contract. Mechanics have responded that they are being unfairly singled out as the cause of the service woes.
But Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly was decidedly bullish on the airline’s prospects during a recent earnings call, pinning much of his optimism on the new Hawaii service. “We’re going big,” he promised.