The History of Hawaiian Airlines


Known as the largest commercial flight operator to and from the US State of Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines is the tenth-largest commercial airline in the United States that is based in Honolulu, Hawaii. It has a secondary hub based out of Kahului Airport on the island of Maui and a primary hub at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on the island of Oahu. Aside from that, they also maintain a crew base at Los Angeles International Airport. The airline offers flights to Asia, American Samoa, Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand, and the continental United States.

The airline was founded on January 30, 1929, by two businesspeople, Stanley C. Kennedy, and Maurice J. Sullivan. Originally, the airline was called Inter-Island Airways, and it was created to provide passenger and cargo service between the Hawaiian Islands. At the time, air travel was still in its infancy, and the founders saw an opportunity to fill a niche in the transportation market. It began its operations on October 6, 1929, with a Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker aircraft that provided short sightseeing flights over Oahu. A month later, scheduled services became available on November 11 using a Sikorsky S-38s aircraft with a flight from Honolulu to Hilo.

Despite the challenges of operating in a new and rapidly evolving industry, Inter-Island Airways was able to establish itself as a reliable and affordable transportation option for travelers and cargo alike. The airline changed its name to its popular name today on October 1, 1941, along with the phase-out of the older Sikorsky S-38s and Sikorsky S-43 flying boats. Along with this, the first Douglas DC-3s were added to the fleet in August 1941, and some remained in operation until their final retirement in November 1968. Inter-Island Airways also played a critical role in the development of Hawaii’s tourism industry, which was still in its infancy at the time. The airline’s affordable fares and convenient schedules made it possible for more people to visit the islands, and its friendly service and onboard amenities helped to create a positive and memorable travel experience.

During World War II, Inter-Island Airways played a key role in the war effort by providing air transportation for military personnel and supplies. The airline’s pilots and mechanics were trained to fly and maintain military aircraft, and the company’s fleet was used to transport troops and equipment to and from the islands. After the war, Inter-Island Airways resumed its civilian operations and continued to grow. In 1949, the company changed its name to Hawaiian Airlines, which better reflected its expanding route network and growing stature as Hawaii’s premier airline.

Due to the intense competition on inter-island routes created by the entrance of Mid Pacific Air, Hawaiian Airlines began to expand its footprint throughout the 1980s. In 1985, the company began its first travel outside the inter-island market through charter services to the South Pacific and the rest of the Pacific using the Douglas DC-8 aircraft. Even though Hawaiian was thriving early in the new business, it was forced to curtail its charter services when the Federal Government banned all DC-8 and B707 aircraft without hush kits from operating within the US. However, it managed to gain a short exemption for its South Pacific services.

In early 1985, the company launched its first scheduled operation out of Hawai’i dubbed the Honolulu-Los Angeles services through their Lockheed L-1011 Tri Stars aircraft. The operation of the new service placed the company in direct competition with the major US air carriers for the first time in history. Meanwhile, in 1986, Hawaiian Airlines entered the international markets of Australia and New Zealand with one-stop services through Pago Pago International Airport. The Company aggressively grew its international charter business and pursued military transport contracts which led to a large growth in company revenues and caused its inter-island service’s share of revenues to shrink to about a third of the company’s total. Within the 1980s, the company ventured into the development and construction of Kapalua Airport on the west side of Maui. The airport was opened in 1987 and was designed with a 3,000-foot runway which constrained its ability to oversee large aircraft.

As the company entered the 1990s, Hawaiian Airlines faced financial struggles, racking up millions of dollars of losses throughout the previous three years because of the airline’s increasingly unprofitable operations, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 1933 resulting in the reduction of the company’s costs such as reorganizing its debt, concessions from employees, cutting overcapacity, and streamlining its fleet by disposing of many planes.

In 1994, Hawaiian Airlines was acquired by a new management team led by former Pan Am executive John W. Adams, who implemented several bold and innovative strategies to turn the company around. These included the introduction of new aircraft like the Boeing 717 and the Airbus A330, as well as the expansion of the airline’s route network to include new destinations in Asia and the South Pacific. Under Adams’ leadership, Hawaiian Airlines also became known for its commitment to customer service and quality, with a renewed focus on the unique cultural heritage and traditions of Hawaii. The airline introduced a few new amenities and features, such as Hawaiian-themed meals, music, and in-flight entertainment, which helped to create a memorable and authentic travel experience for passengers.

In March 2003, the airline company filed its second bankruptcy protection in history. The company continued its normal operations despite having $4.5 million worth of payments due to the pilots’ pension plan. As of May 2005, Hawaiian Airlines had received court approval for its reorganization plan. The airlines emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2004 with reduced operating costs through renegotiation of their contracts with their union work groups, restructured aircraft leases, and an investment from RC Aviation, which bought a majority share in parent company Hawaiian Holdings Inc. in 2004.

With a current modern fleet of more than sixty aircraft and a global route network, Hawaiian Airlines is a thriving business. The airline continues to play a crucial role in the development because of its reputation for friendly service, innovative amenities, and commitment to sustainability.


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