Local airline battle flares anew
Hawaiian alleges trademark offenses on Mesa's Web site
go! will use larger planes in expanding interisland service
Hawaiian Airlines and go!, locked in a bitter interisland turf war, have taken their fight to the next level.
Airing it out
The latest developments of the interisland turf war between incumbent Hawaiian Airlines and startup go!, a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group Inc.:
» Hawaiian Airlines sends a cease-and-desist letter to Mesa accusing the company of trademark infringement and demanding that the Phoenix-based carrier stop using the word "Hawaiian" on its Web site.
» Mesa Chairman and Chief Executive Jonathan Ornstein discloses that he plans to order eight to 12 larger planes for the Hawaii market that could be delivered as early as next year. The planes, which will replace the current fleet of 50-seat CRJ 200s, either will be 90-seat CRJ 900s or Embraer 195s that seat up to 116 passengers.
The state's largest carrier is accusing go! parent company Mesa Air Group Inc. of trademark infringement and has demanded that the Phoenix-based company stop using the word "Hawaiian" on its Web site.
Undeterred by the action, Mesa announced yesterday a significant expansion of its new interisland operations.
Jonathan Ornstein, chairman and chief executive of Mesa, said Mesa plans to order "in the next month or so" eight to 12 larger planes for its Hawaii business, with delivery as early as next year. He plans to replace go!'s five-plane fleet of 50-seat Bombardier CRJ 200s with either 90-seat CRJ 900s or Embraer 195s that seat up to 116 passengers.
"We are feeling more and more that this is working significantly better than our expectations, and there's no reason to wait in regard to the larger aircraft given the response we've gotten in the marketplace," Ornstein said. "The larger aircraft would transition us to profitability very quickly."
A 12-plane fleet would give go! more interisland aircraft in Hawaii than either of the two incumbent carriers, but Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines still would have more total passenger capacity than go!. Hawaiian's 11 Boeing 717s hold 123 passengers each, while Aloha's 10 Boeing 737-200s carry up to 127 passengers. Aloha also uses three additional 737s as interisland cargo planes.
Hawaiian and Mesa have been battling in court for months over go!'s entry into the local market. In the latest dispute, Hawaiian now accuses Mesa of identity theft.
"(Mesa has) loaded up their Web site with our name, which is called keyword stuffing, unlike any of the other carriers we compete with," Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner said. "Nobody else calls themselves a Hawaiian airline, for example, and we're simply asking them to stop.
"It's like identity theft. Mesa is using our name to gain business, and that's just not right."
Honolulu-based media attorney Jeffrey Portnoy, who represents Hawaiian Airlines, said in a letter to Mesa that the use of the terms "Hawaiian Flights," "Hawaiian," "Hawaiian Airline" and "The Hawaiian Airline" creates a likelihood of confusion, constitutes infringement of Hawaiian Airlines' trademark and represents deceptive trade practices.
Ornstein, reached yesterday at a board meeting in Santa Monica, Calif., said he was incredulous about Hawaiian Airlines' latest legal move.
"This is the most preposterous thing I've ever encountered in my business career, that we're not supposed to use 'Hawaiian' on our Web site for service in Hawaii," Ornstein said. "Are we supposed to use 'Chicago' because it rhymes with 'go!'? This is truly a desperate act that defies comprehension. They have not trademarked the word 'Hawaiian.'"
In the cease-and-desist letter, though, Portnoy pointed out that Hawaiian owns various federal trademark registrations for phrases containing "Hawaiian," such as "Hawaiian Airlines," "Hawaiian Miles" in connection with its frequent flyer program, and "Hawaiian Premier Club" for airline passenger services.
The letter, dated July 5, requested that Mesa respond by July 10. But Raul Rizo-Patron, vice president of corporate development for Mesa, said the company did not even receive the letter until Thursday, three days after the deadline.
"We go out of our way to make sure we don't say 'Hawaiian Airlines' on our Web site because we're not in that business. We're not them," he said.
The letter said that common use in the aviation industry establishes the use of "Hawaiian" as a specific reference to "Hawaiian Airlines" and that it cannot be claimed that "Hawaiian" is primarily a geographic term. It also said that the dictionary definitions of "Hawaiian" are "a native or resident of Hawaii" and "the Polynesian language of the Hawaiians."
"If Mesa asserts that 'Hawaiian airline' means an airline serving Hawaii (not just an airline for native Hawaiians or on which Hawaiian is spoken), Mesa's use of 'The Hawaiian Airline' deceptively implies that there is only one airline serving Hawaii and that Hawaiian Airlines does not exist," the letter said.
The letter said "there is simply no legitimate reason" for Mesa's alleged overuse of the word "Hawaiian" in the text of its Web site, www.iflygo.com, and in the site's meta tags, which are invisible text on a Web page that include key words representing the page's content. The letter said the use of those words exceeded the number of times that Mesa used its own trademark, go!, on its site.
Ornstein said that go! used the word "Hawaiian" a lot on its Web site because "that's what generates searches." He said that the letter is trying to prevent go!, among other things, from describing itself on its site as "go! The New Low-Fare Hawaiian Airline."
He also said Mesa discovered Thursday that Hawaiian Airlines had contacted Google and Yahoo and asked the search providers to remove all references to go! from their Web sites for any searches involving the words "Hawaiian." The references were restored yesterday after Mesa contacted the search providers, Ornstein said.
Hawaiian Airlines has been vigorously defending its territory since Mesa announced last September it was going to enter the Hawaii market. The inaugural flight on its new carrier, go!, took place on June 9.
In February, Hawaiian Airlines sued Mesa for damages, alleging that Mesa used proprietary information for its Hawaii operation that it obtained as a potential investor during Hawaiian Airlines' bankruptcy. Mesa responded with a countersuit alleging that Hawaiian Airlines was trying to keep out competition. A trial is scheduled for April.
Then last month, Hawaiian Airlines filed a motion in federal Bankruptcy Court seeking a preliminary injunction that would prevent Mesa from selling new tickets for one year. A hearing on that is scheduled for Aug. 7.
Amid the legal wrangling, Mesa created a splash by offering $39 one-way tickets -- more than half of the previous one-way market fares -- that Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines were forced to match.