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Hawaiian Airlines sends lei our way

• Nonstop flights to Maui are a bright spot in an industry living through gray days

Portland International Airport's 'island-style' send-off Saturday of Hawaiian Airlines' first nonstop flight between Portland and Maui offered a splash of color amid the gloom blanketing the travel industry.

Hawaiian's vividly painted Boeing 767 with the new 'Pualani, flower of the skies' logo emblazoned on its tail taxied to takeoff through a celebratory arch of water Ñ provided by the airport's firetrucks Ñ carrying 252 passengers bedecked with flower leis.

The nonstop flights to Maui will operate three days a week through April, take a break over the summer, then resume in October.

The Honolulu-based airline operates about 150 daily flights from Hawaii to six mainland cities on the West Coast and to the six major islands in Hawaii, plus weekly flights from Hawaii to American Samoa and Tahiti.

In Portland, the 74-year-old airline Ñ the 10th-biggest carrier at PDX Ñ boarded 192,150 passengers last year, a 1.4 percent increase over 2001.

But Hawaiian is leaning against the wind. Total passenger volume at PDX fell to 12.2 million in 2002, a drop of 3.6 percent from the previous year.

'We're hanging in there,' said Suzanne Miller, general manager of aviation marketing and customer service at PDX. 'Our traffic is gradually coming back. But we're watching a rapidly changing airline industry.'

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the shaky state of the U.S. economy have bludgeoned the U.S. airline business. Only a handful of discount carriers, including Southwest Airlines, have managed to stay in the black.

In Portland, Southwest and United Airlines vie for second place in passenger numbers behind No. 1 Alaska Airlines.

Southwest and United each carried more than 1.9 million travelers in 2002 Ñ but their bottom lines are vastly different. United is in bankruptcy but still flying: Its parent company, UAL Corp., last week reported that it lost a record $3.2 billion in 2002.

It's an indicator of the general state of airline affairs that American Airlines' parent, AMR Corp., just reported a $3.5 billion loss for 2002, the biggest in aviation history. American, which carried about 727,000 passengers at PDX last year, is the airport's fifth-largest carrier.

Riders up, revenues down

Top carrier Alaska Airlines accounted for 2.56 million of the airport's passenger volume in 2002. Regional airline Horizon, with 1.8 million passengers, was in third place.

Alaska Air Group Inc., parent of both Alaska and Horizon, reported 2002 losses of $118.6 million. However, because of expanded routes, the firm also reported increased passenger numbers.

Horizon added direct flights from Portland to Denver; Tucson, Ariz.; and Billings, Mont., thanks in part to the industry's trend to 70- to 90-passenger regional jets, which Miller called 'sort of the newest thing in the airline industry.'

The regional jets are opening up newer, smaller markets and allowing airlines to expand nonstop service.

Portland successfully persuaded Lufthansa German Airlines to add a daily PDX-to-Frankfurt, Germany, flight beginning March 31. Officials with the Port of Portland, which operates the airport, now are waiting to hear if Mexicana Airlines will establish a regular nonstop flight from Portland to Guadalajara and Mexico City.

Guadalajara and Portland have a long-established sister-city relationship.

Portland is competing with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., to become the new Mexicana destination.

Miller said a group of the airline's executives visited Portland to hear a presentation outlining the city's merits.

'Now we have to sit tight while they do more analysis,' she said. 'We're hoping to hear something sometime soon.'

The Mexicana flights from Portland could be expected to serve tourists, business travelers and the region's expanding Hispanic population, Miller said.

Eyes on Asia

At this point, the only direct international passenger flights out of Portland are to Canada, a situation that will change when Lufthansa begins service. Delta Air Lines offered service from Portland to Asia for a decade but discontinued the last link Ñ from Portland to Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan Ñ in 2001.

With Lufthansa service in the offing, 'We're taking a new look at Asia,' Miller said. 'There are obviously some challenges over their economy,' which continues to struggle. 'But Japan still is a large market out of Oregon.

'Officials, she said, are wondering: 'Is there anything creative we can do?'

Miller is reluctant to prognosticate what lies ahead for the airline industry. 'There are so many variables out there right now,' she said.

During the Persian Gulf War, she said, 'international traffic kind of came, not to a standstill, but it certainly decreased. It took about 18 months, according to travel industry statistics, to come back.'

Virtually all of the major airlines are searching for ways to cut costs. Northwest Airlines recently announced that it will close maintenance lines in Portland, Phoenix, Miami and Tampa, Fla. About 60 mechanics working the four lines will have the option of transferring elsewhere, the airline said.

Contact Jeanie Senior at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .