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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 24, 2003

More air passengers than ever coming in

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Airline passenger seat statistics are a key measure of how well Hawai'i's No. 1 industry is — or is not — performing.

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It's been a good summer for airlines in Hawai'i. And they're trying to keep it that way.

Airlines are pouring more domestic seats into the Islands on a pace that's projected to set a record.

For the fall, airfares are falling as carriers scramble to keep passengers moving into a promising Hawai'i travel market.

"Fall is looking terrific," said Les Gargan, spokesman Pleasant Holidays, a California tour company that sells vacation packages to Hawai'i. And, he said, "We're already booking Christmas and New Year's."

Busy airline traffic also has contributed to a throng of passengers inside Hawai'i's airports who have been complaining about the price of tickets and long delays getting through security checkpoints.

Despite the inconvenience for tourists and local passengers, the signals airlines are sending suggest a rebound from the economic malaise that fell over the Islands after 9-11.

But big questions remain.

Will airlines continue to view Hawai'i as a good market during the historically sluggish period that begins in the fall? And if they do, what kind of push will that give Hawai'i's economy heading into 2004?

"Our expectation is that in this post-summer season, we will still see arrivals to Hawai'i better than last year," said University of Hawai'i economist Carl Bonham. "We're already seeing discounts on fall air fares, so the carriers are acting fairly aggressive in trying to make sure they continue to fill those planes" after adding flights.

The University of Hawai'i Economic Research Organization's most recent forecast shows 4.4 percent growth in U.S. visitor arrivals this year and next year.

The previous record 5.69 million domestic airline seats was set in 2000. Now, even while international flights have been cut back, Hawai'i's on pace to set a new record of 5.9 million domestic seats.

"It looks like very good news there," said Chris Kam, director of market trends for the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Hawai'i saw double-digit growth in domestic airline seats from January through May — from 10.6 percent in January to 12.6 percent in May. Even for the typically slow months ahead, Official Airlines Guide flight schedules suggest monthly growth of 6 percent to 9 percent for the rest of 2003.

Even every one of the Neighbor Islands has seen some growth over last year. Cumulatively, the Neighbor Island share of domestic airline seats heading directly to them rose from a quarter of the market in 2000 to over a third of the market in 2003, Kam said.

Domestic air seats grew from 4.6 percent in Lihu'e to a whopping 23 percent for Maui.

"Everybody posted an increase," Kam said.

Advertiser staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this report. Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.