SACRAMENTO, Calif. — If you are thinking about spending Spring Break in Hawaii, it's looking more likely that Southwest Airlines will be able to take you there.
Southwest Airlines has passed an important test in its efforts to offer flights to the Hawaiian Islands. It began flight tests on the second phase on Thursday and could get FAA approval soon.
Southwest completed the airline’s first test flight to Hawaii on Tuesday, February 5, flying from Oakland to Honolulu. Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish characterized that flight as “a long-range navigation and communication validation flight.” It was the first time a Southwest plane had flown to Hawaii.
Southwest spokesperson Brad said, "Southwest has passed the ETOPS simulation/exercise phase of our application process ongoing application with the FAA. That means the FAA has given Southwest permission to schedule and operate validation flights."
The airline now enters the second phase of testing. The validation flights will focus on more flight procedures, as the FAA checks to make sure Southwest is prepared to fly its jets on long flights over water.
Southwest said it plans to "operate one validation flight each day over multiple days until we complete this phase to the satisfaction of the FAA." Southwest's first validation flight left Oakland International Airport for Honolulu on February 14.
This is all part of Southwest’s effort to gain ETOPS certification. That stands for Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards. Simply put, it makes sure the airline is prepared to fly in situations where the nearest airport for an emergency landing is more than an hour of flight time away. Southwest needs ETOPS authorization in order to sell passenger flights to Hawaii.
Southwest’s efforts to get the authorization was delayed by the government shutdown that furloughed FAA inspectors, among many other federal workers.
Once Southwest does get approved for Hawaii flights, it plans to offer service to four Hawaii Islands (Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai) from four airports in California (Sacramento, Oakland, San Diego, and San Jose).
While Southwest won’t say exactly when it will start selling tickets, other airlines are already dropping prices on routes where they will compete with the low-cost airline. Earlier this week, Hawaii flights dropped as low as $327 roundtrip from Northern California.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly addressed the timing of flights on Tuesday at a rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The Review-Journal reports Kelly said Southwest could start offering flights to Hawaii by the end of the first quarter if it is able to get approval next week. If it takes longer, flights wouldn’t start until April at the earliest.