MIAMI — Avi Mannis has held the position of senior vice president of marketing at Hawaiian Airlines since July 2014. In that position, he is responsible for the airline’s brand, product, advertising and promotions, direct marketing and direct sales and service channels.
Mannis previously served as vice president of marketing from 2011 to 2014, and vice president of revenue management and schedule planning from 2008 to 2011. He joined Hawaiian Airlines in July 2007 as senior director of transformation. Before coming to Hawaiian Airlines, he worked at the Boston Consulting Group in New York City and Paris, and at Christie’s Auction House in New York City.
Mannis spoke to Airways on topics including changes in the airline’s fleet, Hawaiian’s partnerships versus alliances, the importance of the Japanese market and potential future routes.
Hawaiian Airlines Fleet Questions
Airways: You chose to go with the Airbus A330-800neo as your long-range aircraft after originally ordering the A350. What does the A330-800neo have that the airline found so attractive?
Avi Mannis: We are currently operating the A330-200 as our long-haul aircraft. It was a great opportunity to have an aircraft with the same basic fuselage, but with better performance that we can use on flights to Asia and the South Pacific. Having a similar aircraft with more range and better fuel economy made a lot of sense to us.
Will these replace existing A330-200s or are they expansion aircraft?
The A330s in our fleet are relatively young, so the A330-800neos are expansion aircraft in the 2019-2020 timeframe. We’re growing at a more modest pace, but we see opportunities to expand our business in the future.
In October, you unveiled a new business class cabin with lie-flat seats. Why did you decide to move forward with this initiative?
It’s something we looked at for quite a lot time. Because our focus is on Hawaii and leisure travel, we had a nice recliner product that was competitive with our Asian competitors, who also had recliners. But we saw that things were changing. Some of our competitors were putting lie-flat products in their cabins.
Another thing that helped us make the decision is that as we take on Airbus A321neos to fly to the West Coast, we can use our A330s to Asia and on flights greater than eight hours and we could get a significant premium for a lie-flat product. We had the opportunity to design this product for our needs to make it different from our competitors. We’re working with Italy’s Optimares and the design consultancy PaulWylde to design the seat. We’ll be the first airline to use this seat. One advantage of working with a smaller manufacturer is that they can tailor more aspects of the finished design. We collaborated to bring this seat to life.
You’ve also ordered the A321neo to replace your existing fleet of Boeing 767s. Why was this aircraft so appealing?
The A321neo is going to be a really good aircraft for the mission we’re serving. It has a smaller capacity than our existing fleet. It will have 189 seats as we configure it, which is 100 less than A330. It’s well suited for West Coast to Hawaii markets because it’s fuel efficient and cost effective to run.
Hawaiian also has 18 Boeing 717s. Where are you on the schedule to retrofit them to a single configuration?
We finished that. The last of the aircraft were finished at the end [of November]. It was important for us to have a common configuration.
What are your plans for adding 717s in the future?
We are always interested in opportunities for more 717s, which is a unique aircraft. For a long time, we’ve been the biggest fan of this aircraft, which is incredibly well suited for what we do — high-density flights 10 times a day across the islands. But there aren’t a lot of opportunities to buy them because they’re not made anymore.
We believe the 717s are the right aircraft for the neighbor island mission – the right size, durable and reliable for the 160 daily flights. While we think we have a right-sized fleet, the market for 717s is relatively illiquid and when aircraft come on the market, we are always keen to see if the terms make sense for us.
When will HA’s Boeing 767s be completely retired from the fleet?
We currently have eight 767s that are a mixture of owned and leased. For the owned aircraft, we have planned retirement dates over the next several years and those that are leased are contractually [obligated] through 2021.
Partnerships and Routes
Hawaiian has airline partnerships with ANA, American, China Airlines, Korean Air, JetBlue, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. Why did you choose the partnership route, and why with these particular carriers?
We have really good partnership. Some of it is the nature of the very specific network we’ve built. We work with everyone on our partnerships to help carriers who serve Hawaii to move guests between the islands. In some of our long-haul markets, we have partnerships built on what is the best fit for our network, brand and culture. Relationships with carriers like ANA and JetBlue are ones that make sense to us on our network.
What are your thoughts about joining one of the big three airline alliances?
I don’t think we’ve ever ruled it out. We do look at it from time to time. But it’s something that comes with costs on technology and systems. It’s something you have to believe brings benefits that outweigh the costs, but we haven’t reached that point yet. We’re unique because we’re a destination market airline.
AN: Japan is the largest source of international visitors to Hawaii. What have you done to take and maintain your share of that business?
AM: We’re grown our share of that business aggressively in the past few years. We’ve celebrated our fifth year in Japan. We serve Haneda, Narita (starting in July 2016), Osaka-Kansai and Sapporo. Japan has special relationship with Hawaii, with repeat visitors who came back year after year. They have an affinity for our culture.
Looking at domestic markets, the investor day presentation showed cities including Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, Montreal and Toronto as potential growth markets. What does Hawaiian find so appealing about these particular markets, and what’s the timeline for getting into the growth markets?
We look at major markets with significant traffic, or potential traffic, to Hawaii and inadequate non-stop air service to serve that demand. We have a long list of potential markets and retain a high degree of flexibility with respect to the timing with which we pursue them, as market conditions evolve. We try to make sure that we have a balanced portfolio of mature and developing markets to drive both a growing and profitable business. Over the next several years, we are expecting moderate growth in the low to mid-single digit range.
Our brand promises them a Hawaiian experience from the time they board plane, and that resonates with Japanese visitors. We’ve done really well competing against airlines like JAL and ANA, so we see great promise in that market.
How has the ongoing recession in Japan and the falling yen affected loads on the airline?
It’s an interesting thing about leisure travel. It is remarkably robust through economic cycles. People really persist in taking a vacation. It’s one of the value parts of their lives and they don’t fluctuate away from it. The currency issue does affect revenue. But in terms of actual demand, we think it is quite robust, and we’re doing quite well in that market. Our decision to fly to Narita shows our bullishness on the Japanese market.
Hawaiian’s Investor Day presentation mentioned places like Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Melbourne and Hong Kong on the international side as growth opportunities. What makes these cities so appealing to Hawaiian and what data did you use to determine these particular markets?
At any given point, we have a long list of cities we are looking at for our long-term growth plans. We have growth aircraft being delivered in the next decade. We see Hawaii as a very attractive destinations for visitors in Asia and the South Pacific region. Markets like China and Korea have a great deal of growth potential. We see the ascendence of Asia as a new source of visitors to Hawaii. It will unfold over a long period of time and have flexibility in our fleet plan to accommodate it.
What are some of the more appealing U.S. markets — especially secondary routes — could you look at to serve with the A321neo?
The A321neos start to arrive in the second half of 2017 and we’ll have deliveries for the next three years. They will serve the West Coast to Hawaii and not much further. It frees up our A330 to fly on other routes. We looked at all indicators, like changes in traffic and growth in visitors to Hawaii. Where we think we’ll have opportunities to stimulate traffic and be flexible when we launch to take advantage of favorable market conditions.
Besides the new business class and adding more Extra Comfort seats, what are some of the other initiatives that Hawaiian has done to improve the passenger experience?
The level of hospitality that we provide to our guests is an important differentiator. When people travel on vacation or special occasions, we like to be able to offer things like serving meals or a complimentary glass of wine in the main cabin. It’s an experience that is elevated in ways that our guests like. We just launched our guest chef program in our premium cabin, which highlights the culinary talent in Hawaii.
We’ll continue to invest in the little things. We want to make every aspect of our experience to be evocative of Hawaii. As a brand, we can be about one thing. We don’t have to be everything to everyone. We also recently launched a new amenity kit that evokes Hawaii. We’re always looking at how we keep improving and refining the guest experience in all cabins to better reflect our brand.
What are your plans and goals for the airline in 2016?
There was a time period between 2008 and 2013, where our company went through rapid growth. We’re now in a period where we’ve been very focused on growing more slowly and master the business we have, figure out how to sell our product effectively in new markets, build our brand in Asian markets and build up our products for our customers. This is the year where we will be very focused on continuing to refine what we do as an airline and get ready for the next exciting phase in our network.