Hawaiian Struggles to Maintain Its Operation Thanks to Pratt & Whitney Problems

Hawaiian, Operations

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that Hawaiian canceled my flight home from Maui last week. But it was more than that. Hawaiian canceled the whole week of flying, and it has been struggling ever since the middle of September. This is related to the Pratt & Whitney problem that has plagued the airlines with those engines on their A320neo family fleet. Hawaiian is just feeling the pain more than most, and it’s not planning far enough in advance to prevent cancellations.

Pratt & Whitney, as a quick refresher, is having problems with its PW1100G engines. It’s not a reliability issue. It’s just that cracks can develop earlier than thought, so they need to move up inspections sooner than originally planned. Thanks to a bottleneck in inspection capacity and the lengthy time to do the work, it’s taking 250 to 300 days to get a single airplane through the process.

For Hawaiian, this is an enormous problem. In my last post about this, I showed how many aircraft by airline had the problem engines and how many did not. But for Hawaiian it was misleading. See, Hawaiian has three aircraft types in its passenger fleet. There are 24 A330-200s, 18 A321neos, and 23 717s (if you count the four that it picked up this year from Delta).

Looking at it that way, less than 30 percent of Hawaiian’s fleet is Pratt-powered. But these airplanes are not interchangeable. The 717s cannot fly anything but interisland. Looking at airplanes with enough range to do more than that, the Pratt-powered A321neos make up 43 percent of the airline’s fleet.

Of those 18 A321neos, not all are in service (as of yesterday when I checked).

  • N204HA hasn’t flown since October 6
  • N205HA has been in the Philippines since September 25, presumably getting heavy maintenance
  • N212HA didn’t fly between October 3 and October 13
  • N217HA last flew October 6 to Long Beach and is supposed to re-enter service today
  • N220HA hasn’t flown in six months
  • N226HA hasn’t flown since last year

With some airplanes just not available, Hawaiian has to make a decision. Does it cut service more or does it try to fly with less margin for error? In other words, how much spare capacity does it need? I have to wonder if that’s what’s been causing trouble here.

Since the middle of September, Hawaiian has had a cancellation problem with its A321neo fleet. Here’s what was canceled departing the islands for the mainland from September 15 through October 11.

It starts getting tough after this, because they don’t show as cancels. For example, the cancellation on Long Beach – Kahului continued for a few more days, but it was far enough in advance that they could just pull it out of the schedule and not call it a canceled flight.

In most cases, the return flight back to the islands was canceled the next day but not always. Sometimes there were balanced cancels and shifting of resources. There were also Kahului – Līhuʻe flights canceled interisland, but those were easily made up with 717s.

As you can see, Hawaiian has its favorite routes to cut, and they are nearly always involving Kahului. It makes sense. Honolulu is the primary market where connectivity is most prevalent. If Hawaiian cancels a flight from Kahului, it can try to route people through Honolulu.

What’s really interesting here is that for the most part these flights all have the same pattern. It’s an afternoon flight to the mainland with an evening arrival. Then the airplane overnights and flies back. Since the pattern is the same, Hawaiian can pick and choose which routes it wants to cut, and I would assume that’s done based on which markets are weakest.

Judging from this, Kahului – San Francisco looks like the favorite whipping boy. Maybe it’s a mix of being able to route people through Honolulu and having them fly nonstop to Oakland or San Jose. Then again, Kahului – San Jose was another favorite on the chopping block.

As of late, it’s Kahului – Long Beach that has taken the hit. This is the one that bit me, but it’s also interesting because Long Beach is where Hawaiian does maintenance on the fleet. I suppose if it can keep flowing the airplane through Honolulu to Long Beach, it can still get the fleet where it needs to be.

Southwest doesn’t even bother flying Kahului – Long Beach outside of summer, but it does fly Honolulu year-round. It’s not a big surprise that this Kahului route would be one of the weaker links in the network.

Specifically on last week’s cancels, Hawaiian did provide this statement.

We unfortunately had to cancel on short notice due to aircraft availability associated with accelerated engine inspections by Pratt & Whitney. We apologize to our guests affected by these cancelations, and we continue to work with Pratt & Whitney to mitigate the impact of its work on our fleet and schedule.”

That doesn’t tell us much, so I dug in even further. Hawaiian has already pulled down flying, and I guess that’s not enough.

Block Minutes by Month for Hawaiian A321neo Fleet

Data via Cirium

Hawaiian has been cutting block hours on the fleet since earlier this year. September 2023 was scheduled down more than 15 percent versus September 2022. And it’s not even done yet. Though the flight cancellations from earlier last week were straight cancels, later in the week it was far enough that Hawaiian could just do a schedule change and remove capacity. That will fall out of these schedules.

Chances are some of those aircraft going out of service earlier in the month weren’t related to engines and just put the airline in a pinch. If it does have less slack in the system thanks to those engine issues grounding airplanes, Hawaiian has no choice but to cancel more.

Just when it seemed like Hawaiian was going to get a tailwind, it gets hit with the one-two punch of the Pratt problem and the decrease in demand to Maui after the wildfires. This airline just can’t catch a break.

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23 comments on “Hawaiian Struggles to Maintain Its Operation Thanks to Pratt & Whitney Problems

  1. The real question would be wether or not P&W is footing the bill for the cancellations, making it maybe more interesting for the airline to simply cancel rather than reschedule or trying to find substitutes wet leases to carry people around.

    1. I was wondering the same thing. Wet lease a handful, send P&W the bill. Otherwise this is a rough way to run a good operation.

    1. Those had the CFM LEAP engine I believe. And I heard a rumor somewhere that AA got their hands on ‘em.

  2. I wonder if it would be possible for HA to swap out the PW’s for the CFM LEAP on their entire Neo fleet.

    1. The question is, are there enough compatible CFM engines available for that? Probably not. And that’s before you get into the engineering and certification costs, which are large, if it’s even possible.

  3. You know, lots of people said if they saw a flight was on a Max, they would change flights. Not sure why you took the chance on the NEO, knowing what was happening with that engine around the world. Long Beach was so close, but Maui was way far, far away.

  4. “it’s taking 250 to 300 days to get a single airplane through the process.”

    Engine or airplane? Or does it not really matter?

    Also, shouldn’t the decrease in demand due to the Maui wildfires mean it’s easier to identify the routes to cut?

    1. Nick – I think it’s per airplane. But it’s the same result either way.

      Yes, I would assume that the fires would make it easier for them to focus on Kahului. But that’s also where a lot of the A321s are focused anyway.

  5. Funny but when I see this story I think about people talking about how great Hawaiian l’s performance is (usually).

    Just shows that a lot of times performance failures are from stiff outside the airline’s control.

  6. CF referenced that Hawaiian hoped to gain a tailwind but has now been hit by this engine issue. The headwind they faced for years is the lack of international traffic as many of their flights to Asia and the S. Pacific either could not operate or had low loads and yields. Hawaiian has been badly damaged financially because of covid and they have still not recovered. Maui fires and Southwest’s Hawaii growth compounded the negative impact HA has suffered.
    It is also something of an irony that the PW issues are most predominantly affecting smaller US airlines including Spirit and JetBlue but are having little impact on larger operators such as AA – which uses the LEAP – and DL, whose A321NEOs are newer. Given that the global carriers are being helped by strong demand, the PW engine issue is a big blow to much of the “bottom half” of the US airline industry.
    As for the identifying the PW engine problems and repairing, the sheer number required inspections is what is driving the very long times – up to months – that some of these engines are or will be out of service. There just aren’t enough spare engines that can be used to help minimize airframe ground time on top of PW’s delivery commitments for new GTFs.
    Delta just opened its GTF shop earlier this year and multiple Wall Street analysts have asked them if they expect to financially benefit. DL execs did not want to talk about the financial benefit they gain from their direct competitors but it is a given that Delta Tech Ops will be running as hard as possible like the rest of the GTF MRO network to get this problem solved.
    RTX Corp, parent company of Pratt and Whitney has said these GTF inspections and repairs could cost them $3 billion, an amount that would take down some other companies. It is only because RTX is also a defense contractor and that segment of their business is doing very well that the financial impact will be manageable. RTX will be paying compensation to airlines just as Boeing did for MAX and 787 delays and groundings but the amounts that they will pay is undoubtedly not the fare X number of passengers that they cannot carry but something closer to lost profit potential and direct costs, such as aircraft grounding and underutilized employees. HA wasn’t profitable but they do need the cash (see above) so they have an incentive to keep selling seats, even if they know they will not be able to operate the flights. Their customer service reputation is bound to suffer which could have significant implications about their future given how competitive their markets are.
    There are no easy answers but it appears that by pulling capacity out in advance Spirit is taking a little better approach to managing their GTF groundings than Hawaiian.

    1. Cranky’s first article on this shows that JetBlue has relatively few of the PW1100G-powered A320-family planes. (Sorry to disappoint you.) Spirit’s much worse off, and if the merger goes through JetBlue will inherit at least some of that problem (depending on how long the legal battle takes), but that could open an opportunity for JetBlue to use the problem as a rationale to drop some of the Spirit stations that don’t fit into their long-term plans.

      (Presuming they have long-term plans, that is. I’m still a little skeptical about JetBlue’s management’s approach to this.)

      1. Of course they have long term plans.

        Those plans include using those airbuses and pilots to build new routes and hubs outside the NE. Exactly where to is TBA.

        Read this first: I would mot be surprised if they or someone tried to build at least a small hub in KC. Now that KC actually has a real terminal, there might be some opportunity there.

  7. My family was caught in the Hawaiian/Long Beach debacle. It took us three days to get off Maui. They have now rescheduled my next two flights (Dec and Feb) Not happy about it. I will request refunds for both and fly with another airline. It’s a shame, we loved that LGB-OGG direct flight. Hawaiian just lost some pretty devoted customers.

  8. A close friend used to work as an engineer for GE aviation up in Cinci around the time when the LEAP (and P&W’s GTF) we’re about to come to market.

    He compared GE’s approach to the LEAP as seeking to maximize efficiency through a focus on new, lighter and stronger materials while limiting mechanical complexity. He characterized Pratt’s approach as taking on additional mechanical complexity and weight in return for efficiency.

    From this ugly episode with the Pratts, it looks like GE and Safran made the right choice.

    1. Wes – I think that’s a fair way to categorize it, but it’s not the complexity and weight of the GTF that is causing this problem. This was just a manufacturing defect that had nothing to do with the strategy. The strategy itself has actually worked for Pratt.

  9. Hawaiian airlines is the worst period even without engine problems we waited 14 hrs delayed at lax to Kauai and then cancelled till the next day made our 4day first time trip a 2 day trip and had to cancel
    It’s your choice but pay extra fly out of Ontario and not on Hawaiian al

  10. We had our flight from Sacramento – Honolulu cancelled on 10/8 (then onto Kauai) and wondering if the same engine issue/inspection was the culprit. They sent us a text and emails about 12:30am the day of the flight (8:20am scheduled departure) but we didn’t see it until we were ready to head to the airport – around 5:30am. We called and the only option they provided were flights from SFO or San Jose, both a minmum of a 2 1/2 hour drive away. They never offered us flights for the next day. We ended up cancelling our vacation that we had planned months ahead of time and lost out on out condo costs. Sent an email to the Anthoy Bagio (Senior Director – Customer Contacts) and Jonathan Snook (Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer) complaining and followed up with the same email to the Consumer Affairs office. Haven’t heard back yet, but when receiving the confirmation from the Consumer Affairs office, it indicated “Due to the high-volume of cases received, our Consumer Affairs Office will respond to you as soon as possible. We appreciate your patience.” I am assumming thie “high-volume” is due to all the cancellations you noted in your post. Your post is the only post/article I could find re: the engine issues and the impact to Hawaiian Airlines.

  11. My 11/21 7am HA flight from Oak to Maui canceled and I was told by an online agent that it was a mechanical. I also noticed that all HA flights out of Oak 11/21 cancelled. I suspected a fleet issue but wasn’t sure. I knew one mechanical would not cancel the whole day as that one aircraft is not responsible for all the departures out of Oak. HA ended up booking me on a United flight out of SFO departing at 9am. I searched for more answers prior to departure to no avail. However, my brother found this article which may be at the root of it all. I thought to offer the situational info up to add to the transparency of what may or may not going on.

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