With the opening of a fourth runway at Tokyo’s Haneda airport in late October, the head of Hawaiian Airlines, which will soon start a new Tokyo-Honolulu service, is already looking to further expand the carrier’s business in Japan.

“Our expansion into Japan is a very important moment for our company. It’s something that we’ve been planning for some time,” said Mark Dunkerley, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines Inc., which is breaking into the Japanese market for the first time with the launch of its new service on Nov. 19. “We think of it as the first step of many to expanding our services into Japan.”

Thanks to the new runway, Haneda, located less than 30 minutes by public transportation from business areas in the capital, will be able to add 64 more regular international flights from late October.

Hawaiian is one of the three airlines — along with American Airlines Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. — that beat out Continental Airlines Inc., Continental Micronesia and United Airlines Inc. in the competition among U.S. airlines to use the airport, which is being opened to U.S. flights for the first time in 32 years.

“One out of four is a big victory for Hawaiian Airlines,” Dunkerley said, referring to the four new flights to be launched by the U.S. airlines, in a recent interview with The Japan Times in Tokyo. “This is not the case of us just winning a lottery.”

Dunkerley thinks Hawaiian was able to secure the rights to fly to Haneda due to the airline’s constant efforts to let the U.S. government know of its strong interest in the route.

The airline’s reputation for good service and punctuality also seems to have helped it get the new slot.

Last year, Hawaiian was named the top U.S. carrier for quality of service in 2008 in the 19th annual Airline Quality Rating. With an on-time performance of 90 percent, the airline received top ranking in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report for six straight years through 2009.

“We want to first gain some experience in the marketplace, gain understanding of our customers here in Japan and make sure our service meets their expectation for value for money,” Dunkerley said.

Though still just on the airline’s wish list, Hawaiian hopes to operate more than a single flight a day, he said. “We are interested in finding a way to expand our service, not just to Tokyo but to other cities in Japan as well,” he said, adding that the Honolulu-based carrier will be looking at opening new routes to other big cities, including Osaka and Fukuoka, eventually.

Dunkerley believes the schedule will appeal to Japanese customers.

Flights will leave the Tokyo airport shortly before midnight and arrive in Honolulu around noon. The return flight will leave Honolulu in the early evening and reach Haneda the following night. “It will allow people to finish a day of work in Tokyo, go home, have dinner and fly to Hawaii,” he said. Still, Hawaiian is likely to face stiff competition from Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, which are also planning a daily flight from Haneda to Hawaii, which remains a popular overseas destination with Japanese vacationers.

Dunkerley said the airline is gearing up for the fight with a plan to upgrade its service to make sure Hawaiian delivers “what’s important to the Japanese visitors to Hawaii.”

“What’s important to us is we remain competitive with all of the carriers that we face. Today, we do face all of the U.S. major airlines in our market. We are used to competition,” he said.

Opening up a new route to Haneda is part of the U.S. carrier’s larger strategy to expand into Asia.

In the past few years, the airline has started flying to Sydney and Manila, and will also begin service to South Korea in January.

The International Air Transport Association said international passenger demand in the Asia-Pacific region was up 15.5 percent in June over the previous year, double the 7.8 percent in Europe.

“Asia is most exciting. It is where most economic growth in the world would take place,” he said. “Therefore, we would wish to be part of that growth.”

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