Waiting for Southwest Airlines to start service between California and Hawaii? You’ll have to wait a bit longer. Aviation inspectors needed to certify operations have been furloughed because of the federal government’s partial shutdown, now in its third week.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the delay in flights to the islands from San Diego, Oakland, Sacramento and San Jose that were supposed to start in 2018. “Southwest’s certification to approve operations to Hawaii is delayed during this time because of the partial shutdown,” Gregory Martin, assistant administrator for communications, wrote in an email Thursday.
Southwest announced its plans to fly to Hawaii in fall 2017. It plans to use its 737 MAX 8 aircraft on the new routes, but is still in the midst of the FAA’s extended operation application process that began in January 2018. During the certification process, inspectors determine whether an airplane can safely complete a long haul over water if an engine fails.
In a December interview before the shutdown, Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly told Bloomberg news service that the airline was “very close” to obtaining government approval. “Weeks, not months,” Kelly said. “We’re ready to roll.”
The shutdown, which began Dec. 22, prompted aviation and travel industry officials to write a letter Thursday urging President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to end the appropriations impasse in Washington. “This partial shutdown has already inflicted real damage to our nation’s aviation system and the impacts will only worsen over time,” the letter said.
Stalled certification of new routes was among the issues cited in the letter. It was signed by 34 organizations, including the Air Line Pilots Assn., the Assn. of Flight Attendants-CWA, Travelers United and the U.S. Travel Assn.
When Southwest does start flying, it will be competing with Hawaiian Airlines, among others. Hawaiian plans to introduce its version of a basic economy airfare in the second half of the year. Both Southwest and Hawaiian get high marks for customer service, so it remains to be seen how this competition will play out.