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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hawaii flights by Chinese airline may not start until summer


BY Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hainan AIrlines said last summer that it hoped to begin direct service between Beijing and Honolulu by fall 2009. The airline postponed the launch to early 2010, but now looks unlikely to meet that timetable.

Bloomberg News file photo

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Visitors from Beijing made a stop at Makapu'u Lookout in June 2008. There were about 41,000 visitors from China last year, according to state statistics.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | June 24, 2008

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Hainan Airlines has fallen behind schedule in its plans to begin direct service between Beijing and Honolulu early this year, and the first flight may be delayed until this summer.

The China-based airline unveiled its plans last July and received approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation in October to begin flights using a 288-seat Airbus A340-600. In July, the airline said it hoped to begin service by fall 2009. The airline pushed that back to early 2010, but has been unable to meet that target date.

"They have all the regulatory approvals, but the economy is still a concern for them," said State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert. "There is a financial risk for them being the first airlines to fly from Beijing to Honolulu direct.

"They're working with various travel companies in China to prepare for the launch. And we're continuing our discussions with them."

Once Hainan Airlines finalizes its plans, it would take at least 90 days even with an aggressive time-table for the carrier to undertake a sales and marketing effort for the launch of service, she added.

Officials from Hainan Airlines could not be reached for comment.

The Hawai'i Tourism Authority has already approved spending for a marketing effort in China to promote the flights. The promotional campaign will be carried out by by Hawaii Tourism China, the HTA's marketing partner in China.

Hainan Airlines originally said it planned to start with one flight a week, and eventually increase the frequency of the Beijing-Honolulu service to three flights a week as demand builds.

The new service is primarily targeted at Chinese tourists, a significant market even in the current economic downturn. In the early 1990s, Hawai'i welcomed about 10,000 visitors a year from China. That jumped to above 50,000 by 2008, but fell to about 41,000 last year, according to state statistics.

Hawai'i has long been a popular destination for visitors from Asia, and a new memorandum of understanding between the United States and China has eased restrictions on leisure travel for Chinese nationals coming to the United States.