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Hawaiian Airlines is betting the Airbus A321neo will revitalize its fleet and make new routes possible, but it no longer expects to fly it this year due to performance issues with the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney engines.
Hawaiian has been counting on the new, fuel efficient narrowbody aircraft to allow it to add North American flights, possibly to destinations it may not have been able to fly to profitably in the past. However, Pratt & Whitney has struggled to deliver reliable engines for these planes, leading to production delays. Other airlines have faced similar waits, and at least one — Qatar Airways — refused to take delivery of a similar plane, the A320neo, due to what it said were engine issues.
However, Hawaiian CEO Mark Dunkerley said Tuesday the airline simply will wait out what it expects will be a three-month delay, with the planes now coming just before year-end. He declined to say whether Hawaiian would pursue contractual remedies against Airbus because of the issue.
“Airbus is giving us their best belief as to the delivery of these aircraft,”Dunkerley said. “It’s tied to the release of an improved component in the Pratt [geared turbofan] engine, so I think their level of confidence is reasonably high. That is not to say that it’s a cast-iron guarantee, but we have every expectation of getting the aircraft on the timeline that has now been established.”
The new engine, called the geared turbofan, or GTF, is said to require 16 percent less fuel than other similar engines, while producing less pollution and noise. United Technologies, Pratt & Whitney’s parent company, said on its earnings call Wednesday that it had delivered 138 engines for planes flown by 13 airlines, but the company acknowledged that it has work to do to make the engines more reliable.
“We feel good about the GTF accomplishments,” CEO Greg Hayes said.
Hawaiian has ordered 18 A321neos and plans to use them for several purposes. Some of the 189-seat jets will replace older Boeing 767s Hawaiian now flies on five-to-seven hour legs to North America, while others will open new routes. Hawaiian expects to retire all of its 767s by the end of 2018.
Hawaiian also plans to use A321s instead of twin-aisle A330s for some shorter domestic flights, such as Honolulu to Portland, Oregon. The A330s are capable of flying much farther than some do today, and Hawaiian would prefer to use the big widebodies to Asia, Australia and the East Coast of the United States.
“I think we will see both increases in frequencies on existing destinations and some additional destinations,” Dunkerley said. “None of this is sadly going to be possible in 2017 as far as the moment because the arrival of the aircraft is really right at the end of the year.”