Inter-Island Airways - June 1931

Well before Juan Trippe had the business audacity and deep connections with the US government to build a network of island terminals to start Pan American’s famous China Clipper service from San Francisco – Honolulu – Manila – Hong Kong, there was a realization in the territory of Hawaii that air travel would provide the crucial speed and hopefully safety to tie the island chain together: ships of the era needed a day and a half to transit between the Big Island and Oahu amid strong wind and changeable weather.

Several attempts were made in the early 1920s to begin commercial service, but the craft were unreliable and could not carry an economical load. It took the Inter-Island Steamship Company, one of the two big lines serving the Islands, to put serious capital and talented people behind figuring out how to make flying work.

The Army and Navy were at odds with each other about where and what kinds of airfields to build and where across the territory, so the Inter-Island team decided to go with an aircraft that could land on water as well as paved runways: the 8-passenger Sikorsky S-38 amphibian, already in use with Pan American in the Caribbean, Northwest on the St. Paul-Duluth run, and Canadian operators.

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    Illustration from an Inter-Island Airways schedule, from the Ron Davies timetable collection, housed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The S-38 is shown on the ground being boarded, and flying in the top right. At some stops, however, passengers had to travel to shore via canoe!

Illustration from an Inter-Island Airways schedule, from the Ron Davies timetable collection, housed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The S-38 is shown on the ground being boarded, and flying in the top right. At some stops, however, passengers had to travel to shore via canoe!

The airline’s first official passenger flight was on November 11, 1929 on the Oahu-Maui-Hilo trunk line – not long after the stock market crash and beginning of the Depression. The steamship company was able to absorb operating losses from the airline while it built operational experience and finally earned its essential US Mail contract in 1934. Recovery in tourism – especially with Pan Am’s Clipper service cutting four days’ travel time from the mainland - plus the military buildup in the Islands and guaranteed mail income led to profitability and the acquisition of larger and more capable Sikorsky S-43 flying boats in 1935.

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    From my own collection, scan of the Official Airline Guide

From my own collection, scan of the Official Airline Guide

In this June 1931 timetable we can see the entire system being covered with just two aircraft:

  • A morning run daily from Honolulu out to Hilo, where the aircraft would sit for four hours. The return flight would land in Oahu at 4:45pm.
  • A morning run twice a week from Honolulu west to Kauai, turning around and getting back to Oahu before lunch. At 2 pm, the craft would handle the Honolulu- Molokai- Maui run, returning before 5 pm.

This schedule gave plenty of operational flexibility and, importantly, all-daylight operations. Navigational radio beacons were not in place at the time, and these aircraft could not fly above tropical weather. Also too, landing in ocean waves and taxiing reef-protected harbors were not (and are still not) wise to do at night.

After World War II, the company (now named Hawaiian Airlines) was flying DC-3 landplanes and graduated to Convair 340s in the 1950s, and turboprops and DC-9 jets in the 1960s. Finally in the mid-1980s, Hawaiian entered the Hawaii-California market.

Hawaiian Air A330 at Honolulu

Hawaiian Air A330 at Honolulu

From the mid-2000s, Hawaiian has become the largest inter-Island carrier as well as the leading airline to the Mainland US. They now also fly to other South Pacific islands, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Japan, Korea, and China - the realization of Pan Am's 1930s vision of linking the entire Pacific together via Honolulu.

 

Excellent resources to learn more about Hawaii's aviation history:

http://aviation.hawaii.gov/pioneer-airlines/inter-island-airwayshawaiian-airlines/

https://evols.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10524/623/2/JL37203.pdf

Also see:

Our Hawaii folder at Pinterest

Our Honolulu airport guide

Our Asian-history exploration of Lahaina, Maui

Continental Air Micronesia to Tokyo - 1978

While Pan Am got the credit for developing the "island hopper" route between Hawaii and Asia with flying boats prior to WWII, the route they built did not really serve the people of the central Pacific, as it was too far north of the islands that would come to be known as Micronesia.

After the war Pan Am graduated into long-range propeller and then jet equipment that would allow them to skip central-Pacific stops at places like Midway Island. Northwest of course concentrated on going over the top of the Pacific. Bob Six, the larger-than-life head of Continental, realized in the 1960s this presented an opportunity to build a base of business and extend his airline into Asia (where Continental was doing charters for the U.S. military).

The story has been told in many places about how Continental worked with the local governments in the late 1960s to improve landing strips, and adapted DC-6 and 727 equipment to handle the ocean and beach environments. While profitability was always a challenge, the people of Continental and its Air Micronesia operation showed a true public-service dedication to their community and provided the catalyst for the islands to become a functioning nation. It also gave Continental experience with operations at the far-flung stations of Air Mike's map, which would help that carrier secure long-range flights that still persist today under United's banner.

To that end, a crucial new route was started in January 1978 linking Tokyo's Haneda Airport to the Northern Marianas island of Saipan. Not only was it a valuable pipeline for Micronesian fish and agriculture to reach the Japanese market, it also worked to stimulate vacation tourism from Japan to the Marianas and central Pacific islands. The Saipan-Tokyo route started as daily, with 727-100 equipment.

Later of course you would see JAL, Continental, Northwest, and ANA running multiple jumbo jets each day on this route ... and Continental would go on to serve more cities in Japan than any other U.S. carrier. Every success has to start somewhere.

Excerpts of the January 15, 1978 timetable for Guam, Honolulu, Saipan, and Tokyo are shown below.  Continental had an annoying habit with their 1970s-1980s schedules in that they wouldn't show all the island-to-island Micronesian flight timings - only those to or from Honolulu or Tokyo.

The Continental route map of the 1970s always had too many lines - like many carriers, they showed the routes they were certificated to fly instead of what they actually flew...

I re-drew the map from this timetable to show the real routes Continental operated on 1/15/78:

Guam to Honolulu just 3 times per week...

No connection between Honolulu and Tokyo - the Japan service at this time was strictly dedicated to Micronesian / Marianan local traffic.

Decent arrival time in Tokyo for onward connections & local ground transportation into the city. 

The aircraft remained overnight in Tokyo with a late-morning departure - today we'd consider that a waste of potential flying hours, but the 9:30 am departure did allow for connecting traffic from all over Japan to make this flight.What struck me was that this service went into Haneda Airport - where today it is almost impossible for a US-based carrier to obtain slots. Notice how the Tokyo flight numbers branch out past Saipan - some go southwest to Yap and Palau, while the eastern route links all the way to Johnston Island...

Philippine Airlines - November 1971

Photo by Clinton Groves via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

Photo by Clinton Groves via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

The Philippines were amazingly quick to get into the sky after WWII, thanks to quick re-establishment of eager family businesses, ample supply of surplus Allied transport aircraft, and ready technical assistance from TWA. A dense national network and links to China sprang up in late 1945 and all of 1946.

On July 31, 1946, Philippine Air Lines (PAL) began Manila - Guam - Kwajalein - Honolulu - San Francisco service using leased DC-4 equipment - the very first Transpacific service by any Asian airline. The flight took 41 hours!

Photo by Clinton Groves via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

Photo by Clinton Groves via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

By May 1948, PAL had upgraded to the bigger and faster DC-6, and the Transpacific routing was switched from Kwajalein to Wake Island, bringing trip time down to 30 hours.

However, expansion to Europe, America, and Japan stressed PAL's finances, and numerous domestic mergers to gain dominance stripped its available capital. The Philippine government nationalized the carrier to ensure continued service; however, this meant that capital decisions became political, and the government simply did not have the money to invest in network expansion and airport improvements - or even to buy modern equipment.  By the end of March 1954, PAL had pulled out of all its long-range service, including the Transpacific run.

We have seen this story play out several more times in the Philippines - cycles of privatization and public ownership, capital crisis and generous investment, political upheaval, and regional disasters both economic and natural. The Philippines had been restricted from operating service to the USA due to poor government safety oversight in the 2000s, with this injunction being lifted only recently.

PAL needed until June 1962 to get DC-8 equipment and the ability to re-open Transpacific service - this time only taking 15 hours.  Jumbo jet DC-10 service began in 1974. 747s would come and go - today 777-300s are used nonstop.

Here's a scan of the PAL November 1, 1971 International Timetable, courtesy of my friend and fellow amateur airline historian Arthur Na. The tail of the DC-8 is shown on the cover - this was a high point in the airline's timeline, and the fresh fashion on the cabin crew reflected the company's optimism. 

San Francisco - Hong Kong for $954 round-trip is a fare to be expected now in the mid-2010s, although sales get that figure much lower! 

Transpacific service was daily with the medium-stretch DC-8-50, stopping only in Honolulu. Arrival at SFO allowed for red-eye eastbound connections, and the late-night departure was well-timed to capture all the possible North American traffic.  The 6 am arrival at Manila was ideal to connect to Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. Likewise, flights from those three cities also were timed for easy transfer to the Honolulu-San Francisco service. 

While PAL's mid-Pacific routing took longer than the Great Circle route via Tokyo, the carrier did not have the rights to fly between Japan and North America, and DC-8s (or DC-10s, or early 747s) simply did not have the range to do nonstops to the West Coast.  PAL made the best of this with an excellent connecting bank which could have grown to many E and SE Asian destinations - had continuing conflicts both domestic and international not happened, as well as the economic and social disaster to the country of the Marcos family...

Japan Air Lines - July 1955

JAL postcard from the 1950s showing the DC-6.

JAL postcard from the 1950s showing the DC-6.

Postwar Japan had a five-year ban on aviation - no private or government flights, and the only airline service was by international carriers to just a handful of airports. (No wonder Japan put such effort into building a world-leading passenger rail network!) In January 1951 the country was finally authorized to finance its own airline, and on October 25, 1951, Japan Air Lines finally took to the skies.

Aircraft were leased from Northwest and Transocean, and all pilots were initially American. Northwest provided the JAL team with technical training and management consulting for several years.  Services were concentrated domestically for the next two years - their first Transpacific flight did not happen until February 1954, and Hong Kong came onto the network in February 1955.

The timetable I'm showing here is from July 1955.  JAL is running three flights per week between Tokyo's Haneda Airport and San Francisco via Wake Island and Honolulu, using the DC-6 four-engine prop aircraft. The airplane would arrive SFO at 11:25 am, but not turn around and head back until 12:30 pm the next day.  Likewise, arrival at TYO was at 8:45 am, but the aircraft would sit until 9:30 pm the next day for the run to the U.S. Piston-engined aircraft needed intense maintenance and for oceanic service; there could be no skimping on safety.

Westbound connecting service to Okinawa and Hong Kong (as well as eastbound connections) required an overnight stay in Tokyo. Daily service on the SFO-TYO run would not happen until 1958, and jet service until 1960.  Overnight connections at Tokyo would remain commonplace well into the 1980s for both JAL and Northwest (both airlines also owned the hotels that passengers would need to stay at, rather conveniently...) 

Japanese graphic design already charmingly at work!

Japanese graphic design already charmingly at work!

The DC-6B was a workhorse and reliable to be sure - but it was slow and did not have super range.  DC-7C long-range equipment would come on-line in 1958... the ultimate in piston-engine airliner technology.  JAL did order DC-8 jets at the end of 1955, however, knowing that having the best technology was key to success.

No Korean service; not that the Koreans were in any mood at the time to allow a Japanese airline to land, but also the issue of the war going on and the utter destruction it would wreak.  China of course would be cut off for many decades.  Bangkok and Singapore would happen in 1956 and 1958. 

Let's look at those airfares! US$878 round-trip from SFO to Tokyo; $990 round-trip SFO to HKG (not counting the hotel stay in between of course.)  That was about the going rate in the mid 2010s, with occasional fare sales going well under that figure.

Three daily flights to Sapporo, five daily to Osaka, and one nonstop plus two one-stops to Fukuoka. These routes would ultimately reach the top tier of Earth's busiest city pairs (the Osaka run being supplanted by Shinkansen "bullet-train" service) with dozens of jumbo-jet shuttle flights every day,

It took decades of work to create the nearly-seamless networked world of today, and it's easy to take a relatively quick 787 Dreamliner flight across the Pacific for granted - cocooned in Wi-Fi and inflight entertainment the whole way. But there are still people around who labored on those 20+ hour runs without our reliable engine technology, navigational systems, and comfortable pressurization. Spare a moment of thanks to them for making today possible!

 

Also see...

My Pinterest folder for Japan Airlines

Airport Guide - Tokyo Haneda

Braniff's Asian Expansion - 1979

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    Photo by  Aero Icarus  via Flickr.  CC 2.0 license.

Photo by Aero Icarus via Flickr.  CC 2.0 license.

Far too far ahead of its time, woefully under-supported by the company's route planning, and cursed by starting just as the oil shocks began, Braniff's ill-fated Transpacific expansion was nevertheless stunning and visionary.

Braniff had been a profitable and beloved carrier with a strong portfolio of routes into Mexico and South America, and a well-developed core of domestic services centered on its hub at Dallas/Ft. Worth.  As Deregulation approached in the late 1970s, however, company management thought massive expansion would be the only guarantee that the firm would remain relevant and a survivor in the shakeout to come. They went on a buying spree of Boeing 727-200, 747-200, and 747SP jets - and in 1978-1979 let loose a volley of dozens of new domestic and international routes, many of which connected cities that had never been Braniff strongholds. (Boston to 5 cities in Europe... San Antonio to Phoenix; Denver to Oakland; Birmingham to New York...)

Braniff had much experience flying passenger service in Asia on behalf of the Department of Defense, and had its corporate heart set on winning a DFW-Tokyo nonstop route to complement its newly won (and instantly successful) DFW-London service.

The U.S. Government did not oblige, despite considerable business and political lobbying.

But instead of using disappointment as a spur to re-examine their strategy, instead Braniff applied for route authorities to Asia out of Los Angeles - and received them. While Braniff had served LAX for many years with nonstops to South America, that city had no connection with the rest of the airline's domestic network until the 1979 expansion - and even then, just by 4 daily nonstops to the DFW hub.

The big unexamined assumption of route planning at the dawn of Deregulation was that domestic carriers would still continue to provide seamless feed to international services, regardless of who the airline was flying the international leg. Revenue-sharing practices at the time would have allowed Braniff's planners to believe that American, United, Western, Hughes Airwest, and TWA would happily promote one-connection services ... even though Braniff was encroaching on all their backyards domestically.

In any case, Braniff's history of strong balance sheets and can-do attitude convinced its bankers ... and in July 1979 they extended their new LAX-Honolulu run out to Guam and Hong Kong. In September they started a nonstop between LAX-Seoul, and in October extended that flight out to Singapore.

The visionary piece I mentioned earlier came from hooking Asia up to Braniff's South America network - using the same aircraft. In the attached scans from Braniff's September 15, 1979 timetable, note how they've scheduled:

  • Singapore - Seoul - Los Angeles - Lima - Sao Paulo/Rio de Janeiro
  • Hong Kong - Guam - Honolulu - Los Angeles - Santiago - Buenos Aires

With a couple roundtrips per week on each of these routes, the aircraft had excellent utilization (for the era). At this point in history, the only other carriers attempting service like this were JAL and VARIG - but Braniff was simply brilliant in hooking all these traffic centers together in one swipe.

You couldn't do this today - tough post-9/11 rules for transit through U.S. airports for foreign nationals (you have to have a U.S. visa to get off the airplane, regardless of whether you're staying in the country or not) have effectively put U.S. carriers out of the business of South America-to-Asia connections. And foreign governments aren't going to grant such liberal traffic rights to a new carrier anymore...

Advertisement in the January 1, 1980 Braniff system timetable

Advertisement in the January 1, 1980 Braniff system timetable

Of course, it wasn't to be. Braniff never garnered the domestic connecting traffic from its competitors, and Northwest and Pan Am out-hustled them on corporate sales on their competing Transpacific services. KAL was just starting its own nonstops from Seoul to L.A., as well - so a lot of capacity was suddenly dropped on the market just in time for the oil shock.  Korea in the 1970s wasn't the economic powerhouse we know today, so it wouldn't have provided a lot of traffic from its side of the Pacific, either. Again, if Braniff could have controlled its own feed out of LAX, things might have been different...

The stubby 747SP had horrible economics when flown half-empty, (same 4 engines for a little more than half the passenger load as the baseline 747-100) and wasn't all that good for freight, either.

By Summer 1980, Singapore had already dropped off the map - and the amazing Great Circle route had morphed into Hong Kong - Seoul - Los Angeles - Santiago - Buenos Aires.  Even then, still an amazing flight - any carrier today would consider it a flagship service.

But by then, the collapsing economy and Braniff's hubris were becoming painfully evident - notice how many routes had already disappeared from the map.  Even the Honolulu - LAX bridge service had been cancelled.  Less than 2 years later, the Braniff fleet would be parked at DFW, Eastern would be flying the South American services, and American would be building an unbreakable fortress hub in Texas with what used to be Braniff's core routes (including the London run.)

Should Braniff have kept their egos in check and been more deliberate and economical with expansion? Well, of course.  737-200s and DC-10s would have been much smarter fleet choices, and they should have concentrated slow but steady route growth out of DFW (and perhaps Miami for South American feed) instead of spreading flights around willy-nilly.

However, that which is beautiful often fades quickly, and without the ego and groupthink from Lemmon Road in Dallas, we may never have seen the gorgeous Halston-era paint schemes on Braniff's fleet - or these amazing Asian routes.

Also see my...

Dallas/Ft. Worth airport guide

Transpacific Flying Pinterest folder