Hawaiian chose the 170 seat DC9-80 (later the MD-81). The first aircraft, N809HA, was delivered in April 1981 and six MD-81s replaced 8 of the 10 DC-9-51s. The DC-9-81s were registered from N809HA-N869HA in the familiar increments of ten and named after Hawaiian destinations. Unfortunately for Hawaiian the Super 80s were a stretch too far as the airline discovered the same issue Aloha would later come across when they upscaled their 737-200s to 400s. The larger MD-81s were not as suited to inter-island operations as the DC-9-51s being both too large for passenger volumes and heavier than required for the short hops. The efficiencies of operating larger aircraft with lower CASM are not realised when the sectors flown are so short.
Several of the MD-81s were leased out quite quickly. N849HA and N859HA were leased to the startup American International in April and June 1983 until September 1984. These two frames were then leased out to Frontier Airlines in late 1985 and never operated for Hawaiian again. Two others, N819HA and N829HA, were leased to PSA from May 1985 for four months. Only two aircraft survived in the fleet until 1990.
So what could be better than a DC-9 - another DC-9 of course! Hawaiian had sold off its initial fleet of DC-9-51s except for the two newest (N699HA and N709HA). They replaced the MD-81s with more DC-9-51s taking a selection of second-hand examples including four ex-Swissair and two ex-Austrian examples (several of which had seen leases with Muse Air). These six aircraft were all in service by June 1988. Six more were added from April 1990 including 3 ex-BWIA, 1 ex-VIASA, 1 ex-Swissair/SAS and another last with Eastern. This last aircraft which kept its registration N420EA was the only one of the new series 51s that had previously been with Hawaiian (as N639HA).
Of the two MD-80s featured in this post. N829HA was owned by Airline Investment Inc by July 1989, but she didn’t see further service until 1993 when she joined Sun Jet Intnl as N817SJ. In October 1997 she became LX-FAA with Fairlines and then N980SB. Her last operator was Spirit with whom she became N806NK on July 28, 1999 until she was retired on August 30, 2004.
N859HA transitioned from Frontier to the Continental fleet. She was re-registered as N16884 in May 1991 but was written off on June 14, 2000 when during an engine run she powered into the terminal at Newark.
Hawaiian ran into serious troubles in the early 1980s but throughout it all the intra-state routes remained the airline's bread and butter. In part 3 we'll look at whether Hawaiian ever found a replacement for its trusty DC-9-51s.
Cohen, Stan. 1986. Hawaiian Airlines: A Pictorial History of the Pioneer Carrier in the Pacific
Aeromoe's Airline fleets - Hawaiian
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: