Boeing 737 MAX | Hawaiian Air Interisland Fleet Replacement

Boeing 737 MAX | Hawaiian Air Interisland Fleet Replacement

Hidden inside of a long, 27-page Alaska Air Group Investor Presentation came some interesting insights and plans from the Seattle-based airline planning to acquire Hawaiian Airlines over the next 12 to 18 months.

Many of you have been wondering and asked us about the interisland fleet that is, in essence, Hawaii’s bus system between islands. And the presentation gave us somewhat surprising insight into just where Alaska may be headed in that area.

Boeing 737 MAX as replacement for 19 aircraft, Boeing 717 interisland fleet.

The current fleet is seriously showing its age, with visible wear and tear. We flew to and from Honolulu yesterday again and couldn’t help but notice the plane looked very well-worn, to be kind. And that’s just what passengers can see. The plane we once thought was a marvel when flying on it a quarter century ago, now feels like very old airliner technology.

Alaska will move forward with a 717 interisland fleet replacement relatively quickly. When they do, the plane they would likely be planning for is the Boeing 737 MAX 7. That plane, the smallest of the MAX line, together with the MAX 10, is awaiting certification for flight, which is likely to occur in 2024. The 737 MAX 7 is somewhat larger than the current 717 fleet, and can carry up to about 150 passengers, depending on configuration.

Alternatively, Alaska could deploy older 737 planes, of which it owns many, to Hawaii. As an aside, Alaska also has a fleet of Embraer 175 jets. That would have caused us to ponder whether an E-JET solution wasn’t more likely. But based on this document at least, it appears that isn’t the case.

Alaska Airlines is an all-Boeing company again.

After recently jettisoning the legacy A321neo fleet that Alaska obtained through its purchase of Virgin America, Alaska returned to being an all-Boeing plane company. So it came as no real surprise that on page 18 of the report, Alaska stated (we believe erroneously) that the fleet has nearly half its cycle time remaining. If that were the case, then Hawaiian would not have been moving forward towards a previously indicated 2025 decision on replacement. But more importantly than that, the report stated the 717 fleet “could eventually be replaced by 737.” Fascinating.

Why does the fleet need replacing and what seemed astray in Alaska’s report.

In the realm of Hawaii aviation, the age and flight cycles of planes is a noteworthy topic. Both aircraft flight hours and the number of take-offs and landings (cycles), are essential elements in assessing a plane’s overall condition.

In Hawaii, the larger planes covering longer distances generally accumulate more flight hours but fewer cycles. Conversely, planes dedicated to shorter interisland flights, such as the Boeing 717, experience higher cycles due to the frequent take-offs and landings. We’ve been told that the 717’s can perform 12 or more cycles per day. A plane that’s 25 years old flying 12 cycles per day would have already amassed 109,500 cycles. Originally, we were told that the planes were built for a typical service life of 60,000 cycles. That being said, the life can be extended significantly by a variety of factors including maintenance, operating conditions, and modifications.

Boeing 717: The Workhorse of the Pacific for a quarter century.

Among the notable aircraft in Hawaii’s fleet, the Boeing 717s stand out for their remarkable service history. With most in operation for twenty to twenty-five years, these planes boast significant flight cycles. Notably, two planes, N488HA and 489HA, have reached 25 years of service, and exemplify the endurance of these aircraft.

As a passenger fleet, the Hawaiian Boeing 717s represent some of the highest flight cycles globally. Pilots have lauded the aircraft’s capabilities, with one Hawaiian captain expressing confidence that the 717 could continue flying indefinitely.

Rigorous Maintenance and Safety

Despite the age of these plans, Hawaiian Airlines maintains a robust reputation for safety. With almost a century of flight experience and no major incidents since 1929, the airline’s maintenance programs ensure the safety and airworthiness of its planes. Routine inspections, maintenance checks, and defined retirement criteria are part of these programs, allowing airlines to extend the service life of their aircraft.

The Future of Hawaiian Airlines’ Fleet

Anticipating the retirement of the Boeing 717 fleet, Hawaiian was close to revealing its choice for replacement and had been expected to announce a decision in the near future. Things happened, however, that prevented that development. First, the cost of a new fleet, which could be $50 to $100 million per plane, was extreme in relation to circumstances in which Hawaiian finds itself. Then the acquisition by Alaska Airlines, completely derailed any thoughts of fleet replacement.

Hat tip to reader Mitch.


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