If you’ve ever ordered anything online, you know that shipping to Hawaii can take a while. That is because the vast majority of goods in Hawaii came here on a ship. But the share delivered by air has been growing steadily for almost 30 years.
In fact, Hawaiian Airlines is the nation’s oldest air cargo carrier. It was issued the first-ever certificate for air freight back during World War Two. This week the company debuted a new fleet of inter-island cargo planes.
Honolulu is the single point of entry for all cargo coming into Hawaii. That’s true for ocean-going container ships AND cargo airplanes. Although far more goods arrive in Hawaii via ship, air transit is playing an increasingly important role. Worldwide, ships account for 99% of annual cargo tonnage. But the 1% that arrives via air represents 35% of the total global value.
Those numbers explain why the more expensive air option for shipping. Brad Dechter is President of Dependable Hawaiian Express, a freight company that provides service to Hawaii. He told HPR that although shipping things by air costs 2-3 times more than a container ship, it still makes sense for some products. Perishable goods like produce and certain medical supplies fall into that category, as do parts and materials used by contractors with very tight schedules.
According to the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, use of air freight services coming into Hawaii has increased by almost 3% per year since 1990. For inter-island deliveries, the annual growth has been almost 5%.
That big growth in the inter-island market has led Hawaiian Airlines to expand its cargo capacity. In 2016, Hawaiian accounted for 6% of total inter-island air cargo by volume -- putting it behind Aloha Air, Transair, and UPS.
A big reason for being in fourth place was that Hawaiian Airlines did not have dedicated cargo planes for inter-island routes. President and CEO Peter Ingram sees the new fleet as part of the airline’s long-term strategy.
Overseeing that growth will be the job of Brent Overbeek. His team manages Hawaiian Air’s cargo operation. He says that understanding the market is key. Hawaiian's expansion into the cargo market has been planned over several years. The company developed freight clients by using its Boeing 717 passenger planes to move cargo. That service will continue alongside the newly dedicated cargo flights.
To mark the launch of the new business, Hawaiian used the inaugural flights to deliver donated construction tools and home furnishings to hard-hit communities on Kauai and Hawaii Island. The supplies were purchased by Hawaiian Airlines at a discount from Oahu-based retailer City Mill.