Bearing the name of both its origin and destination, Hawaiian Air, now a major trans-Pacific carrier, took wing-and float-in 1929 as Inter-Island Airways, Limited, inaugurating service from Honolulu’s John Rodgers Airport to Maui and Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii, with a pair of eight-passenger, Pratt and Whitney R-1340-powered Sikorsky S-38 amphibians on November 11, using the water which characterized its island home as a substitute for the lack of concrete runways. Initially operating three weekly roundtrips, it soon doubled its fleet with two more S-38s.
While demand requires capacity, the former was created, in no small part, by the China Clipper service Pan American World Airways provided with the large-capacity, long-range, quad-engine Martin M-130 flying boats it operated from San Francisco to China, via Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island, Guam, and Manila, sparking the need for increased inter-island passenger and mail transport.
Filling the gap, Inter-Island acquired 16-passenger Sikorsky S-43s, the first of which, registered NC-15061, was delivered in December of 1935, six years before it changed its name to Hawaiian Airlines, Limited, and received the first government-issued cargo certificate, enabling it to commence freight service on March 20, 1942.
Although World War II-imposed flight restrictions thwarted its commercial operations, it nevertheless continued to carry passengers and cargo between strategic island depots.
Aircraft advancement and gradual runway construction changed its-and Pan American’s-profile, facilitating the 1941 acquisition of low-wing, all-metal, 24-passenger, land-based Douglas DC-3s, signaling, although unbeknownst to it at the time, the beginning of a long relationship with the Santa Monica aircraft manufacturer.
Although its unsuccessful DC-5 necessitated its elsewhere search for a traffic demand satisfying successor in the form of the pressurized, air conditioned, 44-passenger Convair CV-340 in 1952, and it ultimately operated 13 of the type along with its 52-passenger CV-440 Metropolitan counterpart, it returned to Douglas when it leased two DC-6As and two DC-6Bs six years later, deploying them on both military charter routes and (briefly) inter-island scheduled ones.
Piston engines were replaced with turboprop ones in July of 1963 when it inaugurated the British-designed Vickers V.745 Viscount into service, the world’s first turbine-powered airliner.
Paradise beckoned. The way Pan American had stimulated island travel 25 years earlier, so, too, did United Airlines in 1960, when it inaugurated pure-jet DC-8 Mainliner service from the US West Coast, reducing the aerial bridge crossing to about five hours, and this ultimately sparked demand for equally faster, larger-capacity aircraft to connect the islands’ major population centers and deliver tourists to palm fringed beaches.
Becoming a DC-9 twin-jet operator in 1966, when the first of its DC-9-10s, registered N901H, was delivered on March 12, it was able to reduce inter-island travel times to some 30 minutes, and became a long-loyal operator of the type, which became its workhorse in ever increasing size: the DC-9-30 in 1967, the DC-9-50 in 1975, the DC-9-80 (MD-80) in 1980, and the 717-200 (nee MD-95) in 2001, which served the seven airports on six Hawaiian islands of Honolulu, Oahu; Hilo, Hawaii; Kahului, Maui; Kaunakaka, Molokai; Kona, Hawaii; Lanai City, Lanai; and Lihue, Kauai.
When Boeing 707-320 operator South Pacific Island Airways (SPIA) was grounded in 1984, Hawaiian Air was granted its scheduled route authority to Pago Pago, American Samoa, and Nuku’alofa, Tonga, leasing three quad-engine DC-8-62s for the service. Additional Pacific destinations were soon added.
Thin inter-island routes were supported with the additional of 30-passenger Shorts SD3-30s and 54-passenger de Havilland of Canada DHC-7-100s, both high-wing turboprops.
A milestone in its 56-year history occurred on June 12, 1985, when it inaugurated Hawaii-mainland service, connecting Honolulu with Los Angeles, which it operated with its first widebody type, the Lockheed L-1011-1, four of which had been acquired second-hand. Subsequent expansions saw it touchdown in Seattle, San Francisco, Las Vegas, other Pacific destinations, and Sydney, Australia, by 1988.
Of the other inter-island airlines, including Aloha (737-200s), Mid-Pacific Air (F.28-4000s), and Discovery (BAe-146-200s), Hawaiian Air was the largest and had evolved into a major intercontinental carrier, serving, as of early 1990, eight Hawaiian destinations (Hilo, Honolulu, Kahului, Kapalua, Kona, Lanai, Lihue, and Molokai), eight in the Pacific (American Samoa, Auckland, Guam, Rarotonga, Sydney, Tahiti, Tonga, and Western Samoa), and five on the US mainland (Anchorage, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle), the latter exclusive by L-1011 TriStars, on which its Premier Pacific Service was offered.
Carrying five million annual passengers on 230 daily departures, it operated a 36-aircraft fleet: eight 54-passenger DHC-7-100s, two 85-passenger DC-9-10s, 11 139-passenger DC-9-50s, two 170-passenger MD-81s, five 204-passenger DC-8-62s, two 235-passenger DC-8-63s, and six 350-passenger L-1011-1s.
Its slogan was “Hawaiian: The colors of paradise.”