Hawaiian ordered 13 aircraft with a further six options. The 717 would seat slightly less people than the DC-9-51s (115 vs 125) but this was a benefit when frequency was more important than capacity. With the 717 Hawaiian also decided to put a turbulent 1990s behind it and update its livery. Thankfully the new design was an update rather than a rebrand and kept a modified Pualani girl on the tail. It was released on the website on January 10, 2001 to much relief as it was a beautiful update of the classic scheme.
A month later on February 28, 2001 Hawaiian accepted the first two 717s (N475HA and N476HA) from McDonnell Douglases classic old Long Beach plant despite some unpleasant weather. To transit the 717s to Hawaii 250-gallon ferry tanks were fitted inside the cabin - though the 717 required only 4 compared to the DC-9s need for 10! As each 717 was delivered a DC-9 made the trip in the opposite direction for retirement in the desert at Mojave. The first 717 made the trip on March 2 and was presented to the press and public on March 14. Scheduled services began on March 15 using N475HA 'I'iwi'.
All 13 Boeing 717s were in service by the end of 2001 replacing in full the venerable DC-9s. Unfortunately it hasn't been all plain sailing for Hawaiian as the airline entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2003. One of the things Hawaiian sought to do was renegotiate its lease arrangements - as it actually leased its entire 717 fleet from Boeing Capital Corp. Boeing was far from happy when Hawaiian returned a pair of the 717s (N482HA and N483HA) and sought damages itself. Both these aircraft went on to airTran. Another factor in the return was a decrease in inter-island traffic that had been caused by an increase in direct flights to other islands in the chain. Fortunately though Hawaiian apparently discussed leasing MD-80s as an alternative an arrangement was reached with Boeing and the rest of the 717s remained in the fleet.
In fact though Hawaiian lost its pole-position on intra-Hawaiian flights to Aloha in 2006 the subsequent collapse of its long-term competitor in March 2008 increased demand for Hawaiian and meant an expansion of the 717 fleet. With 717 production over and relatively few frames up for grabs this wasn't as easy as it seemed as airTran was also keenly buying up used examples. Fortunately in December 2008 Hawaiian was able to acquire three ex-Impulse/QantasLink aircraft plus its own former N483HA which had returned back to BCC off lease from airTran. That brought the fleet up to 15 units which has been expanded further by the acquisition of 3 former Midwest Airlines aircraft on lease from BCC in 2011/12.
Hawaiian has kept the faith in the 717 and it is hard to see what could ever replace it. The fleet operates 160 daily short haul flights around the islands and in September 2015 the airline announced it would retrofit new interiors for the whole fleet. The aircraft which previously had 5 different interior setups will now all seat a standard 128 seat configuration enabling Hawaiian to keep competitive with its 717s well into the future.
Raub, Milo. September 2001. 717 to the Islands. Airliners Magazine
Reed, Ted. September 2015. Hawaiian Airlines Says It Will Retrofit Its Boeing 717 Jets. The Street.
Sokei, Debbie. January 2004. Boeing files claim against Hawaiian. Honolulu Advertiser
Airliners.net. January 2004. Why No More Hawaiian 717s
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: