S. Korean, Chinese airlines prep for additional flights to Hawaii


POSTED: Friday, November 21, 2008

Airlines in S. Korea and China are planning to add capacity to Hawaii from Asia, as an ease in travel restrictions earlier this year is expected to bring more visitors from the region.

Korean Air said it will add seat capacity to its daily service to Honolulu starting next year, while China Airlines is considering an additional route between China and Honolulu that would run through Taipei. The announcements come in the midst of a 12-day visit to Asia by Gov. Linda Lingle and Lt. Gov. James Aiona to help boost isle tourism, which continued its decline in September with a 19.5 percent drop in visitors as financial woes plague mainland and foreign economies.

“;It opens the door for travel,”; state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert said in an interview. “;What would hinder us from reaping the rewards from that travel would be the lack of air seats.”;

While the U.S. mainland and Japan remain Hawaii's top visitor markets, Wienert said she expects Korean Air to add 700 seats a week to Hawaii starting in the first quarter of next year by switching from a Boeing 777 aircraft to a Boeing 747. The plane would carry 100 more passengers on its one flight each day out of Seoul Incheon International Airport to Honolulu.

“;We believe coming out of Korea the numbers will be back to where they were in the '90s—at 120,000 in the next couple of years,”; she said. “;China's numbers will be even stronger than that.”;

Wienert said the Korean airline industry is optimistic about expanding air service to Hawaii in the wake of Korea instituting a visa-waiver program on Nov. 17 that allows most Korean citizens who have e-passports and have received clearance via the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization to travel to the U.S. without a visa.

Seoul-based Asiana Airlines president Joo-An Kang said service to Hawaii is being considered for the near future, although further details are not available, Wienert said. Asiana flew routes to Hawaii in the 1990s, but stopped service in 1998 as a financial crisis swept Asia.

Through September of this year, visitors to Hawaii from China increased 4 percent to 40,535 from last year. State officials expect these numbers to increase due to a memorandum of understanding which went into effect in June that allows Chinese travel agents to openly advertise and promote group leisure tours to the United States.

China Airlines operates two direct flights between Taipei and Honolulu on Thursdays and Sundays, and flights on all other days of the week with stopovers in Tokyo. As plans fell through this year for Beijing-based charter company Mega Global Airway to offer six weekly nonstop flights to Honolulu and Grand China Air Ltd., the holding company for Hainan Airlines, to operate a single round-trip flight on an Airbus 330-200 in October, China Airlines remains the only carrier serving Hawaii from the country.