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Exclusive: Virgin America CEO David Cush Talks Plans For Flights To Hawaii, Sharklets

The First Virgin America A320 With Sharklets

The First Virgin America A320 With Sharklets

At Virgin America’s Newark Airport inaugural celebration this week, I had the opportunity to sit down with CEO David Cush for AirlineReporter.com. While talking about their new Airbus A320 with Sharklets, Cush detailed his airlines future plans for flights to Hawaii.

Jason: “You just took delivery of your first A320 with Sharklets, when do you expect that to enter into service?

Cush: “It should be in about two weeks, let’s call it around April 25th or so.”

Jason: “Do you have any idea which route it will be flying initially?”

Cush: “It’ll be flying some of the longer routes, because of the efficiency, so probably San Francisco-Boston, San Francisco-JFK. We took delivery of that one in Hamburg, and it was a beautiful airplane on the way over. Our chief pilot flew it over, and we actually saw greater than 4 per cent efficiency from Sharklets. So they estimated 3.5, we saw a little bit over 4.

Jason: “How do you estimate that will impact your operations?”

Cush: “We fly these aircraft kind of at the edge of their performance. When we’re flying Boston to San Francisco, in the winter and into headwinds, that’s about all that aircraft can do. Now what we got is an airplane that can do that easily without weight restrictions. So it’s not only a fuel efficiency thing, it’s a performance thing.

Jason: “I know that JetBlue had taken delivery of the first production retrofit a couple of months ago, and they have been doing that exact route, and they report that they have to make fewer tech stops to refuel. Do you anticipate less stops or was that a problem initially without Sharklets?>

Cush: “We don’t take tech stops. If we’ve got a long flight plan or strong winds, what we do is we basically buy passengers off the airplane. So, rather than inconveniencing everyone, what we’ll do is will find people to buy off, and they’ll wait for the next one. We take very few tech stops, usually when it’s an unplanned change. But what this will mean is that we will never have to take passengers out of the aircraft again.

Jason: “How often do that [buying passengers off the flight] happen right now?”

Cush: “I would say during the dead of winter, with a bad jet stream, I would say maybe as much of 10 per cent of the flights out of Boston.

Jason: “Do you anticipate the impact of Sharklets being able to open any new routes in the future?

Cush: “The main thing is that it lets you do West Coast to Hawaii, and that’s something you can’t do with the current aircraft. And so we’ll be using Sharklet equipped airplanes in 2015 when we start flying to Hawaii, and we can’t do that without the Sharklets.

Jason: “Are there any plans to retrofit current aircraft with Sharklets?”

Cush: “We’re going to wait and see. You know, there’s a lot of work you have to do on the wing, a lot of weight you add to the aircraft, which is a little bit of a challenge for us. We like the fuel efficiency, we don’t like the additional weight, so we’re not in a big hurry to do it. I know JetBlue is really blazing that trail, we’ll probably just sit back and see what their experience is, and if it’s good, we’ll probably go ahead and do the same thing.

Jason: “All future deliveries of Airbus aircraft at this point, will they be Sharklet equipped?

Cush: “All of ours will be. We’re not taking any more airplanes until 2015, and then we’ll take 10 from 2015 to 2016.

This story written by… Jason Rabinowitz, Correspondent.

Jason is a New York City native who has grown up in the shadow of JFK International Airport. A true “avgeek”, he enjoys plane spotting and photography, as well taking any opportunity he can get to fly on an aircraft.

@AirlineFyer | FaceBook |Virgin America, Sharklets, Hawaii

Classic Airline Commercial: Western Airlines DC-10 Service to Hawaii

This is a classic airline commercial for Western Airlines from 1981 that highlighted their DC-10 service from London to Hawaii.

Western Airlines had a fleet of 10 DC-10s by the time they merged with Delta Air Lines.

Thanks Drew for pointing this one out!

Allegiant Air Receives ETOPS Certification to Fly 757′s to Hawaii – Finally

One of Allegiant Air's Boeing 757s (N902NV) while still in Everett, WA.

One of Allegiant Air's Boeing 757s (N902NV) while still in Everett, WA.

The journey from rumors that Allegiant Air was to add Boeing 757-200s during the summer 2010 to their fleet to now receiving ETOPS and Flag Carrier Status status from the Federal Aviation Administration has been long.

Last summer, it was a let down for Allegiant, when the FAA gave them authorization to fly the new aircraft type, but they would not give the airline ETOPS certification to fly over the water to Hawaii. Over the past year, Allegiant has been flying a few 757s on routes in the continental US to gain experience. That experience is finally paying off and starting at the end of this month, the airline will start service to Honolulu, followed by Maui in November. Allegiant’s non-stop service plan to Honolulu:

Las Vegas – begins June 29
Fresno, Calif. – begins June 30
Bellingham, Wash. – begins November 15
Monterey, Calif – begins November 16
Eugene, Ore. – begins November 17
Santa Maria, Calif. – begins November 17
Stockton, Calif. – begins November 18

Allegiant will also offer nonstop air service to Maui from:
Bellingham, Wash. – begins November 14

“This is an important day for Allegiant,” Andrew C. Levy, Allegiant Travel Company President, said. “Obtaining ETOPS and Flag Carrier status not only clears the path for our new service to Hawaii, but also opens up potential international opportunities and will play an important role in our company’s future growth.  Our operations team worked long and hard to ensure the completion of this certification and we thank them for their dedication in achieving this important goal.”

Currently, Allegiant operates a fleet of 58 MD-80 aircraft and four Boeing 757-200s. They still have two additional 757s that are being leased. Allegiant plans to put one 757 into service during fourth quarter 2012 and the second first quarter of 2013.

Allegiant is still planning to grow and is looking at other route options. Previously Levy has stated that the airline is looking at the possibility of flying to Canada, Mexico and even South America.

Alaska Airlines Starts Flights from Bellingham, WA to Honolulu

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 about to leave Bellingham for warm Honolulu.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 about to leave Bellingham for warm Honolulu.

Bellingham is located about an hour and a half north of Seattle and about fourteen miles south of the Canadian border. Over the past few years Belingham International Airport (BLI) has been growing tremendously. Friday was an exciting day for the airport and Alaska Airlines. Even though Alaska and their sister carrier Horizon Air have been flying out of Bellingham to Las Vegas and Seattle for quite sometime now, Alaska has now started non-stop service to Honolulu (HNL). They will fly to Honolulu and back once per day using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Alaska started their first flight to Hawaii in 2007 and now has eighth west coast cities connecting to the islands of Hawaii.

“Alaska Airlines is proud to call the Pacific Northwest home. So we’re delighted to offer Bellingham its first-ever nonstop scheduled service to Hawaii,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing. “Our new Honolulu flights will allow travelers from north of Seattle and the Lower Mainland to take advantage of our low fares, award-winning service and Mileage Plan earning opportunities via an easy-to-access, nearby airport.”

Flying to the state of Alaska has become huge for the airline. I was able to talk to Bob Derse, Regional Manager of Sales and Community Marketing in the Northwest and he explained when he started with Alaska about 30 years ago, 80% of seat miles were flown to and from the state of Alaska. Today there are only about 16% of the seat miles flown to Alaska and 15% being flown to Hawaii. Derse, the other local Alaska personnel and the airport’s personal were all very excited for this flight. Of course all of their excitement was nothing for the full plane load of passengers who were waiting to head to Hawaii. Well, actually it wasn’t a full plane. Due to weight and range issues, the flight will be flown with 10 empty seats. That is a win for passengers, since this means there will be quite a few empty middle seats, making the flight more comfortable.

This guy is loving the idea he is heading to Hawaii!

This guy is loving the idea he is heading to Hawaii!

I asked Christina Aldanese of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau if Hawaiians thought it odd to fly on planes to the west coast of the United States on an airplane that has “Alaska” on the side. She explained that Hawaii and Alaska states have a sort of sisterhood with both not being a part of the continental United States and the last two to join the union. Many folks going to and coming from the islands truly appreciate the additional flights that Alaska has provided.

Since this was such a big (and fun) deal, Alaska wasn’t going to let this happen with out some special treats. Passengers were greeted by employees in Hawaiian garb and were given a special party bag, food and drink. After going through security, there were Hawaiian decorations and more food and drink at the gate. Before boarding, there was an Hawaiian blessing done with a gentlemen in Hawaiian garb chanting and splashing water from a bowl with what looked like braided seaweed. He started from the gate and went through the plane and back inside. It was quite entertaining to see. While he was doing this there was an Allegiant flight that was de-boarding and I don’t think I have seen so many looks of curiosity from passengers.

There were plenty of smiles coming from people as their boarded the aircraft, knowing in a few hours they would be in Hawaii. Although Alaska is the first airline to fly from Bellingham to Hawaii, they most likely will not be the last. Allegiant has announced they plan to commence flights out of Bellingham, but their ETOPS certification of their new Boeing 757′s have been delayed, causing the flights to be pushed to at least 2012. This will give Alaska time to market their new route and start to build a loyalty for passengers flying from northern Washington and southern British Columbia to Honolulu.

To help you celebrate, Alaska is offering special discounted tickets for quite sometime. You can fly to HNL from BLI for just $149 each way — hmm, maybe I can take advantage of that.

MORE GOODIES:
* My photos of the Alaska Airlines event
* Video from KOMO4 News

Seeing Apolo Ohno and the Winners of Alaska Airlines Contest off to Maui

Apolo Ohno taking a photo of his image on an Alaska Airline's Boeing 737...how surreal

Apolo Ohno taking a photo of his image on an Alaska Airline's Boeing 737...how surreal. Photo by me.

Back in March I blogged how you could win a trip to Hawaii for five days with Apolo Ohno on Alaska Airlines. Well, Alaska received almost 30,000 entries (one was mine) and four lucky people were selected (none of those were me, but I did get to be there…bonus). I always wonder, “does anyone ever win these things?” and sure enough they do.

Yesterday morning I got up at about 3:45am to head down to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to meet the lucky winners and of course Apolo Ohno. You know Mr. Ohno right? He is the most decorated American Winter Olympic athlete of all time and he is also a cool dude. For some, being that talented has a way of going to someone’s head, but not for Ohno. He was more than happy to take photos with fans.

I spoke with one of the winners and his guest; Kevin LaChapelle and his new fiancé Whittnee Chen. Even though they have known each other for years, Kevin just proposed and Whittnee said yes. What better way to celebrate than a free trip to Hawaii, with Apolo?

Apolo after he arrived in Maui. Photo by Alaska Airlines

Apolo after he arrived in Maui. Photo by Alaska Airlines

Kevin told me he almost missed winning this trip. He saw the email and sent it to his spam folder. He then remembered signing up for the contest and took a second look. He had won!  Kevin said if Whittnee didn’t say yes to his proposal, he had many friends saying they would take her slot to Hawaii.

I was also able to interview Apolo on video about his thoughts on having his image on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737. Well, long story short, I lost the video. Lame. It was really good too. Anyhow he told me it was very surreal. He explained how much he loves Alaska Airlines and is so happy they sponsored him. The silver lining of all this, I was Tweeting my frustrations on losing the video and Apolo responded over Twitter he would like to re-do it. Now, that is awesome!

Their special flight took off from Seattle at about 8:30am yesterday and arrived in Maui in the afternoon. When they arrived, they were greeted by the Lt Governor of Hawaii, James R. “Duke” Aiona Jr, the Maui Mayor Charmain Tavares and the Maui Surf Groms.

The groms are a group of young surfers who are looking to make surfing an official Olympic sport. The group helps disadvantage kids fly around the Hawaiian islands to compete and they were all very excited to meet Ohno.

It was fun to watch them all leave, but I wish I was going with them. Oh well, at least I can blog about it.

Check out all my photos (and a few from Alaska Airlines) of yesterday’s events – including a shot of the luggage processing area at SEA.