If there ever was any doubt about the demand for flights to and from Haneda airport, that was dispelled just before midnight on Nov 19 when Hawaiian Airlines launched its first service from Haneda to Hawaii. The Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, which seats 264 passengers, was full. It was a gratifying sight for Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Mark Dunkerley who has been to Japan around 10 times this year, lobbying for Hawaiian Airlines.
Dunkerley, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the London School of Business and a Master’s degree in Aeronautics from the Crane Institute of Technology in 1985, has worked at Miami International Airport, served as a vice president and manager of British Airways, was COO and president of Worldwide Flight Services, and COO of Belgian airline Sabena before joining Hawaiian Airlines in 2002. He has held his current position since 2005.
Hawaiian’s outbound flight departs Haneda daily at 11:59 p.m. and arrives at Honolulu International Airport at 12:05 p.m. the same day. It leaves Honolulu daily at 6:05 p.m., arriving at Haneda at 10:05 p.m. the next night. The airline is counting on Japanese customers taking the late-night flight after a full day’s work.
The new Tokyo-Honolulu route is a key step in Hawaiian’s long-term plan to expand its service in Asia and other destinations using up to 27 new Airbus A330s and A350s that the company plans to integrate into its fleet over the coming decade.
Japan Today and GaijinPot caught up with Dunkerley on the morning before the inaugural flight from Haneda to Hawaii to hear more.
We have been trying to get into Japan since I joined the company eight years ago. During that time, we have been focused on finding the right opportunity. That didn’t really arise until Haneda opened up. I think that we, above all other U.S. airlines, worked very hard to encourage our government to reach the agreement that led to this opportunity.
What about Narita?
It’s not that we weren’t interested in Narita. It was a question of securing attractive times, slots and facilities. It is important, when making a large investment to come into a new market like this, to do so in favorable conditions. Haneda’s attraction is its location in Tokyo.
How did you do your market research?
We have had a presence in Japan for a long time and a long relationship with Japanese tour operators, so we are well known. We sell a lot of tickets to people wishing to fly between the islands of the state of Hawaii. So we looked at the economic data, counting the number of passengers each season who fly back and forth between Japan and Hawaii, and we had close consultations with the travel trade.
You are not just selling a seat on a plane, but a destination, aren’t you?
That’s right. We work extremely closely with the tourism authority. We are selling the Hawaii experience. That’s one of the reasons I am chairman of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. In the eyes of consumers around the world, Hawaii stands for not only warmth and sunshine but a host culture that is all embracing. All of those attributes we bring to our onboard service. Where we distinguish ourselves against competitors is by wrapping ourselves in the Hawaiian experience. Our passengers start their holiday the second they step on our plane.
We put all of flight attendants and customer service agents through training in the expectation and needs of Japanese customers. This isn’t just another route for us. This represents a level of commitment to this marketplace that is over and above what you would anticipate.
What about the onboard experience?
The music and ambiance are Hawaiian. The blankets are a Hawaiian quilt. We have changed the menu selection to better appeal to Japanese; it’s not just Japanese food, a lot is Hawaiian food delivered in ways that will be more accommodating to Japanese. Photos of food on the menu make it easier for Japanese customers to order. We have three Japanese flight attendants on each flight.
What are your long-range plans?
We want to expand in Asia. In January, we will start a direct flight to Seoul (Incheon), and we hope that another destination will be secured sometime in 2011. There is a good chance it may be another Japanese city.
What can you tell us about your partnership with ANA?
ANA is a very important partner. We both feel confident that we can deliver value to one another. For us, being able to code-share with ANA and connect their customers onto our services is very important because Hawaiian Airlines provides the best service between the islands. They are in a great position to help teach us the ropes of selling to the Japanese marketplace.
What trends do you see in international aviation in the future?
Alliances today really are the relief valve for the pressure that has built up because, unlike most industries, in aviation, cross-border mergers are very problematic. I think as we go forward, we will see alliances playing a larger role. There will be more passengers on the move, and nowhere will that be more evident than in Asia. The economic prospects of the region combined with the demographics mean that Asia is going to be the engine of many airlines’ growth.
What do you like most about your job?
The things I enjoy most are setting the medium and long-term vision and direction and putting the resources in place so that the steps between here and there can take place. The other thing I like is spending time with employees. That is absolutely at the top of my list. When I need a pick-me-up, I go out to the airport to see the operation.
Do you ever check out your competition?
Definitely, if I have to fly somewhere that Hawaiian does not go to. If you believe in continual improvement of your services, you have got to be very aware of what competitors are doing. No one airline or business is the sole depository of good ideas.
Photo Credit: Vards Uzvards / Flickr