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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Merged air carrier may convert fleet to all 717s

By Susan Hooper
Advertiser Staff Writer

The carrier created from the merger of Hawaiian and Aloha airlines likely will convert its entire interisland fleet to Boeing 717s like those used by Hawaiian, affecting hundreds of Aloha pilots and mechanics who would have to be retrained, the executive leading the merger said yesterday.

Also, as part of the company's five-year growth plan, Greg Brenneman said he wants to order as many as 12 more long-haul planes such as Boeing 757s or Boeing 767s that would give the carrier the ability to offer twice as many long-distance flights within four years.

Determining the type of fleet the new carrier will use is one of the largest remaining pieces in the puzzle surrounding the merging of the two carriers. Hawaiian and Aloha operate different aircraft requiring specialized knowledge by many of those who work with them, especially pilots and mechanics. A decision on the fleet puts the carrier a step closer to knowing how many employees may be laid off and making offers to pilots, mechanics and other union employees whose jobs are linked to specific aircraft.

So far, Brenneman has offered contracts to flight attendants and several work groups in the International Association of Machinists.

Many more 'variables'

But representatives for pilots and mechanics said yesterday that even though Brenneman is a step closer to sketching out the ultimate shape of the airline, many questions remain to be answered before the company can make offers to their union members.

"There are a tremendous amount of variables," said Stacy Platone, a spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents pilots at both Aloha and Hawaiian. "Availability of aircraft, availability of financing and availability of training are going to play a big role in what happens to our pilots.

"And I would hope that the company would have a more detailed plan for the pilots so they can move forward with the seniority list integration."

Randy Kauhane, assistant general chairman of District Lodge 141 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who represents both Aloha and Hawaiian mechanics and related employees, said the type of leasing agreement the new airline makes with Boeing will influence the amount of work local mechanics do on the new planes.

"It's an unknown, because we don't know what the program calls for in the leasing of these aircraft," he said. There may be "a certain type of work you do in the Islands and a certain type that you would have to source out. ... Again, we haven't gotten any details."

Hawaiian, which already is operating 12 Boeing 717s on its interisland routes, has replaced all DC-9-50s with Boeing 717-200s. Aloha operates Boeing 737-200s on its interisland routes, and Brenneman said those likely would be replaced with Boeing 717s. Aloha pilots and mechanics would receive training by the company on the new equipment, he said.

Combining seniority lists

Fewer than 600 of the combined airline's employees will lose work when the merger goes through, Brenneman has said. Unions for the two airlines are working to merge their seniority lists and determine who will be affected.

Brenneman and union representatives all said yesterday that Aloha pilots and mechanics assigned to the 737-200s would not be at greater risk of being laid off because their equipment is being replaced.

Brenneman said he is working with Boeing Co. officials to reduce the lease rates on planes that have been ordered by the two carriers, which will mean "millions and millions of dollars of lease savings" to the airline.

Boeing's offer is contingent on the merger going through, he said.

Ultimately, however, growth in the merged airline likely will come in the long-distance market rather than in interisland service, Brenneman said. He said the interisland market already has shrunk from 9 million passengers to 8 million in the past two years.

As the airline grows, he said, he expects that in five years interisland service will shrink from about half to about one-third of the company's total business, with long-distance service growing to two-thirds of the business.

Brenneman said he expects that the airline will offer nonstop flights from Hawai'i to places on the Mainland "that nobody flies to today," such as Phoenix, Sacramento and Fresno.

The merged carrier also could begin nonstop service from the Mainland to the Neighbor Islands, Brenneman said, and he is also considering service to Japan, perhaps in a partnership arrangement with Japan Airlines or All Nippon Airways.

"I think the stuff to the Mainland is much easier to do, but we're looking to grow elsewhere as well," said Brenneman, who will be chairman and chief executive of the new carrier.

Reach Susan Hooper at shooper@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8064.

Correction: Hawaiian Airlines has replaced all DC-9-50 airplanes on its interisland routes with Boeing 717-200s. A previous version of this story had different information.