The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it has granted Southwest Airlines approval to begin flights between California and Hawaii, capping the airline's effort to extend its reach 2,400 miles (3,800 kilometers) across the Pacific.
The Dallas-based airline's chief operating officer, Mike Van de Ven, said Southwest will announce timing for selling tickets and beginning flights in the coming days.
The FAA will increase oversight of Southwest for the first six months, an agency spokesman said, adding that the additional monitoring is standard practice.
In the meantime, Honolulu's Daniel K. Inouye International Airport is ready to accommodate the Southwest Service. "The Department of Transportation has already made some infrastructure improvements in order to be able to accommodate Southwest Airlines," said DOT spokesperson Tim Sakahara. "We added four new gates to the Diamond Head Concourse. So there's G7 to G10, they are all brand new, renovated areas."
Southwest plans to launch flights to four of the Hawaiian islands, including Honolulu, Lihue, Kahului and Kailua-Kona. It will fly from four cities in California: San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento and San Diego.
CEO Gary Kelly has left open the option of adding flights between islands, which would encroach on markets dominated by Hawaiian Airlines.
Southwest needed FAA certification of its ability to operate long, over-water flight s with twin-engine jets where the options for emergency landings are few. In recent weeks Southwest has operated several test flights with FAA personnel on board to monitor such things as navigation and communications.
Southwest hoped to begin selling Hawaii tickets last year, but that had slipped even before the 35-day partial government shutdown, which began in late December and resulted in the furlough of thousands of FAA employees.