72 Hours with Hawaiian: A Unique Headquarters Setup, Flying Hawaiian’s Very First Airplane

72 Hours With, Hawaiian

I left off in Part 1 yesterday as I stepped off the airplane into the warm Honolulu sunshine. After a brief ride, I was at Hawaiian’s headquarters building.

[Disclosure: Hawaiian paid for my flights and hotel.]

From the outside, the building is a twisted mess of multi-level parking lots. It’s home to all kinds of different firms ranging from telecom to vehicle maintenance for the state. Buried in there is Hawaiian’s brand new facility. Once you walk in the door, you forget that the outside is such a confused mess.

The entrance is on the third floor, and right past the entry way is a big stairway leading upstairs. To the right is the airline’s modest operations center. To the left is the Pili Lunchbox, the lunch room that is run by a local Hawaiian chef who creates farm-to-table dishes every day. The rest of the floor is filled with desks, as is the floor above. They are working on the 5th floor now which will fully complete the airline’s facility when it opens.

Open Concept Hawaiian Offices

This isn’t your typical headquarters building. The office is all open-concept. Desks are open to those around you, and the floors are only broken up by conference rooms and huis. The hui is a gathering place where they have printers, coffee, water, etc. Nobody has their own printers, so they force you to socialize with coworkers. There are no exceptions. President and CEO Mark Dunkerley has an open desk just like anyone else. The only difference is he has a conference room behind him if he needs to go into a meeting.

Hawaiian Headquarter Hui

The Lunchbox is a big gathering place. The tables are mostly communal and it is packed during lunch hour. Why? Because the airline has a rule that nobody can eat at their desks. Oh sure, you can go out elsewhere if you’d like, but if you stay in the building, you can’t eat alone.

Hawaiian Pili Lunchbox

Why do they do this? It seems to be a big effort at building a work family, or ‘ohana in Hawaiian. (As you’ll see later, this isn’t the only place they use that word.)

After the tour of the office, it was time to get right back on another airplane. But this was no ordinary airplane. This was an incredibly old airplane that makes the Convair I flew in Phoenix in May look brand-spanking new.

Ride on the Bellanca
Ship NC 251M is a 1929 Bellanca. In fact, it’s Hawaiian’s very first airplane. Before it acquired flying boats to do interisland flying, Hawaiian opened up shop with a Bellanca, THIS Bellanca, doing flightseeing tours around O’ahu. A few years ago, they found this airplane and decided to fix it up back to flying condition to honor the airline’s history.

Hawaiian Bellanca NC251M

They keep the airplane in a Castle & Cooke hangar on the makai (ocean) side of the airport, and it’s a real beauty. It sounds like the process to get this up and running wasn’t the easiest. They had to get creative. For example, the tires? Those came off a 1925 Ford Model T truck. They also put a bigger engine in there than it had originally, so it has plenty of power.

The Bellanca is available for employees and their families to fly without charge. Unbelievable, I know. I guess it’s considered a perk, and it goes up several times a week. Our pilot was Merle, a guy who had only been flying the airplane for only a few months. But his long history of flying all kinds of aircraft made it an easy transition. He asked us where we wanted to go, and I told him to just take us anywhere for as long as we could stay up. The end result was a slightly longer tour of the island than normal. After taking off to the north, we flew over Waikiki and Diamond Head. Then we snaked up the windward side, passing Koko Head and the Pali and Likelike highways. We came around the North Shore and then passed through the middle of the island, over Pearl Harbor, and right back on the ground. It was amazing, and it was too cool for words. Take a look at this 4m22s video of my Bellanca tour around O’ahu.

By the time we got back, I was exhausted. Fortunately, we were done for the day. They took me over to the Ala Moana Hotel, which was fine but is clearly well past its prime, and I was ready to collapse. But I needed to eat, so thanks to all of you who helped me on Twitter. I went to Nico’s Pier 38 and had some excellent ahi. Then I came back and passed out.

The next morning I was up before the sun. I’m not sure why this always happens, but when I go to Hawai’i, I always wake up early that first day. It doesn’t happen to me when I come back home after a trip to the east coast (same time change), but in Hawai’i it’s like clockwork. And that’s my favorite part of the trip. I walked down to the beach and watched the sunrise.

Ala Moana Sunrise

After that, it was time to start the day. First up was my truncated interview with President and CEO Mark Dunkerley. I’ll have that, including our follow-up phone call, next week. (I figure I’ll give you a break from my Hawaiian series on Thursday.)

Other posts from my 72 hours with Hawaiian Airlines:
72 Hours with Hawaiian: Flying to Honolulu in Extra Comfort
72 Hours With Hawaiian: Across the Aisle From President and CEO Mark Dunkerley
72 Hours with Hawaiian: Meeting with Execs, Flying ‘Ohana by Hawaiian
72 Hours with Hawaiian Airlines: The Honolulu International Airport Modernization Plan
72 Hours With Hawaiian Airlines: Talking to Flight Ops, the Ride Home in First Class

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24 comments on “72 Hours with Hawaiian: A Unique Headquarters Setup, Flying Hawaiian’s Very First Airplane

  1. Now I’m sitting here wondering how many people spill coffee on the copy machines.

    Do you know if that’s the original color of the Bellanca when they flew it, or just the color it is now?

      1. The original Bellanca color was also red! While there were no color photos taken at the time, a newspaper article refers to it as a red airplane.

  2. By fly – do you mean that those employees within the company that have pilot’s licenses can fly the airplane, or does it mean that all employees can only go up for a ride in the airplane? If it’s the former, that’s an amazing perk!

    1. All employees and their families. They have volunteer pilots who fly several times a week. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the ride. Great piece of the company’s history! Bravo to them for finding, restoring, and allowing employees to share in a piece of aviation history.

    2. Ricky1912 – Of course they are only allowed to go for a ride. As noted, there are a few pilots who can fly it, but it should be noted that one of those is President and CEO Mark Dunkerley. He’ll go out and take employees up himself.

      1. Sad. I can see requiring some pretty specific restrictions. (Pilot license, type rating, and some hours in the Bellanca, etc..)

        I guess the question is if they’ve had employees ask to be allowed to fly it, and if they’ve said yes or no.. Might be something where they’ven’t had employees ask them about it, so they’ven’t considered it.

  3. What a terrific experience – and the price was right. Just watching your flight around the island makes me want to get out of the office and over to Hawaii as soon as possible. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Terrific footage. What a great perk for employees. Just one more reason I was diappointed that I could not get a pilot interview with Hawaiian. Looking forward to your interview with the CEO.

  5. I wonder how they put that Bellanca on their certificate…

    The office policies seem a wee bit overly paternal, but I wonder how the employees end up feeling about it..

    1. The “open office layout” is very widespread in use all over, so nothing new; and while potentially paternal, I don’t know I’d call it paternal at Hawaiian’s expense. Either way, many companies are actually now rethinking the layout anyhow.

      1. I was thinking the no eating lunch at your desk requirement was paternal… The open office layout stuff makes sense depending on what work your employees are doing. Some positions such as software development don’t benefit from an open layout, which who knows, could be the source of HA’s IT issues.

    2. Hi Nick,

      There’s no such thing as a type rating for an aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds for takeoff. For the flying described here (no money changing hands) even a simple Private Pilot license with the ASEL (Aircraft Single Engine Land) rating (and a tail wheel endorsement) is required.

      There are probably company rules (and insurance specified) minimum hours and checkout procedures required, but so far as the FAA is concerned any legal Private Pilot can fly that Bellanca. Holders of advanced certificates, like say one of Hawaiian’s captains, are automatically allowed under FAA regs to fly smaller aircraft which do not require a type certificate.

      If I had an office job there, my chief problem would be not enough time to volunteer pilot … I’m worried that my supervisor would be expecting me to actually do the job I was hired for LoL. Sounds like a great company to work for.

        1. NP, Nick. How ironic you did the hard and boring part of getting a pilot’s license and missed out on the joys and satisfaction that could have been yours. Especially in a community like this where so many folks are into the business of aviation and the very highly regulated world of airlines, they never realize the aspects of aviation that are fun. I’ve been a private pilot for 49 years now and the most amazing change over the years to me seems to be how isolated the majority of folks are from real “grass roots” aviation.

          Recently a friend told me, “Oh I could never learn to fly, it costs so much.” Yep, it even cost, percentage wise at least as much back 50 years ago … but this same fellow spends as much every year on season tickets for his favorite football team and some other spectator sport expenses as getting a Private Pilot license would cost … we seem to have become a nation of watchers rather than doers. (or so this old man opines).

          1. Yeah, I did the boring part as part of High School.. The fun part I would’ve had to do on my own, and as a teenager I didn’t have the money and I couldn’t convince my parents to give me that.

            Given my record at the time piloting vehicles that aren’t designed to leave the road, let alone the ground, its probably a good thing that I’ve waited. It is one of those things that I want to go back and do at some point, and I’ve got a few years to do it.

    3. Nick,

      Not in the industry, but like many others I work for a company that has a similar open office layout to Hawaii’s (no private printers, desk dividers at head height when seated, no private offices for anyone, even C-level execs).

      It takes a little getting used to, but in a team-based environment I like it. Not only is it easy to ask quick questions (by turning my head and speaking in a normal voice, I can talk to one of ~10 people near me without leaving my seat), but it makes for a more open and brighter environment. This is especially good for more junior people, who in a normal office (with managers having private offices by the windows) would be exposed to very little natural light.

      Downside is a lack of privacy, lots of background noise (earbuds and Spotify are ubiquitous in my office; it’s rare to not be within earshot of 5 or more conversations at once), and the need for tons of conference & huddle rooms. As you said below, though, if you’re mostly working on an individual project, you either need a bit less background noise or need to find a way to get in the zone despite the distractions.

      1. They installed white noise machines in the ceiling of the open office space to solve the problem of multiple conversations. It sounds kind of like an air conditioner and you don’t notice it unless you are listening for it, but it does a great job of deadening the sound from all around the office space.

  6. Thanks for sharing the video. That was great! Did you takeoff/land at HNL, or a general aviation airport? How close are their offices right to the airport?

  7. re office space, yawn, who cares, but that Bellanca, wow! Here’s a little more info, from a 2009 press release:
    The Bellanca was never used for interisland flights. Over the next two years, 1930-31, the company continued to use the Bellanca for Honolulu sightseeing tours to help promote air travel, carrying more than 12,000 people total at a cost of $3 per person.
    Earlier this year, Hawaiian acquired the Bellanca, which had been grounded since 2000, from an aviation enthusiast in Oregon and initiated an ambitious restoration project at Port Townsend Aero Museum in Washington to return the plane to flying condition for the company’s 80th anniversary on November 11. Support for the restoration was provided by many volunteers both from within and outside the company, and by sponsors Pratt & Whitney, manufacturer of the plane’s vintage engine, International Lease Finance Corporation, and Global Aerospace Services.
    Here’s the entire press release, courtesy of Hawaiian:


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