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Hawaiian Airlines CEO Bets on the Yen

So far, stock market volatility and weak world economies have not diminished bookings. "Anxiety in the financial markets and a low level of consumer confidence are not reflected in demand," he said. "In keeping with our experience in 2008 and 2009, as we entered a recession, we found that vacations in Hawaii were not as discretionary an expense as people anticipated -- demand held up well."

Despite the positive trends, Hawaiian shares, like those of other airlines, have not fared well this year. This year, they are down 50%, trading Wednesday morning at $3.92. The stock had its moment of glory in 2008, reaching $11.10 a share, after two principal competitors went out of business.

"Hawaiian was a beat-down company that got life when its competitors died," said Avondale Partners analyst Bob McAdoo. "So you bought it for the recovery."

But now, McAdoo said, "The nature of Hawaiian as an investment may be changing to a bet on the strong yen and other Asian currencies -- which is something people haven't focused on yet."

Tokyo-Honolulu is one of the world's biggest international markets. Most flights serve Tokyo Narita, which has nine widebody flights a day. Only three carriers -- Hawaiian and Japanese carriers ANA and JAL -- fly Haneda-Honolulu.

In 2010, Hawaiian was one of four U.S. carriers awarded a Haneda route by the U.S. Transportation Department.

"We were fortunate enough to secure one of the routes to Haneda, when there were only four of them, and we are the only one" not to cut back, Dunkerley said.

In the wake of the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan, American Airlines (AMR) suspended Haneda-New York Kennedy service, while Delta has suspended Haneda-Detroit (it continues to fly Los Angeles-Haneda). "We suspended Detroit-Haneda this week for the winter, but it will return next summer on a year-round basis," said Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter.

Dunkerley said Hawaiian is now benefitting from its decision not to cut back in Japan. "We were the only airline not to reduce service to Japan in the aftermath," of the disasters, Dunkerley said. "That was a conscious decision against an expectation it would bounce back sooner rather than later. Such was our confidence that, having already announced plans to start Osaka, we did start service as planned.

"Today we are seeing levels of traffic in Japan not only back to levels before the tsunami, but actually ahead of them." he said.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. .

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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