Hawaiian Airlines’ switch from A330-800 to 787-9


The 787-9 versus the A330-800

If one considers the A350-800 as the ideal aircraft for Hawaiian, the final choice of the 787-9 is not surprising. The A350-800 and 787-9 were main competitors before Airbus decided not to produce the A350-800 version.

The 787-9 is about 15 seats larger in the cabin than the A350-800 but the -800 was the true long ranger, flying 500nm further than the long-range 787-9. The A330-800, on the other hand, is 25 seats smaller than the A350-800 and flies 1,000nm shorter legs.

The final choice of the 787-9 is understandable in this context. If Hawaiian’s plans for its future route network needed a sub-fleet of A350-800s, the 787-9 is the logical substitute.

The background to Hawaiian’s long-range needs

Hawaiian is presently flying long-distance flights to destinations in the US and Asia. These are all destinations within range of Hawaiians present fleet of widebody aircraft, the A330-200 (24 off) and 767-300ER (7 off), Figure 1.

Figure 1. Typical routes for Hawaiian’s present long-range network. Source: Great circle mapper.

Air distances flown even on a day with persistent winds on the nose would be below 5,000nm or 12-hour flights.

When signing up for the A350-800, Hawaiian said it was to safeguard the ability to open routes to Europe. This is another league of routes. Now we talk about 50% longer flights, with ground distances of 6,500nm or more and flights times of over 15 hours.

The present fleet of A330-200s or 767-300ERs can’t fly these routes. The upcoming A330-800 will be capable of flying such routes, but only just. The aircraft has a nominal range of over 7,000nm but in practice, several factors reduce this to a reliable 6,500nm.

The nominal range of 7,000nm is with new aircraft and engines. Over a 12-year lease period, one shall count on the aircraft deteriorating to minimum 95% of this range between overhauls. Further, the range is for an aircraft in showroom configuration. Airline configurations add options like in-flight Internet and more elaborate cabin amenities. All this reduces the practical range.

On bad days headwinds will increase the airborne flight time and lessen the covered distance. It’s therefore prudent to classify the A330-800 as a reliable 6,500nm aircraft with the 787-9 as a 7,000nm aircraft.

Figure 2 shows the covered destinations with a range of 6,500nm. North Europe is covered down to the line Paris-Berlin but Munich would not be covered, nor Madrid or Rome.

Figure 2. Destination coverage with a 6,500nm aircraft. Source; Great circle mapper.

With a 787-9 all of Europe would be covered, Figure 3.

Figure 3. Destination coverage with a 7,000nm aircraft. Source; Great circle mapper.

Capacity and efficiency

The 787-9 is a larger aircraft. It would take 40 more passengers in our Normalized cabin configuration, 290 compared to 250 passengers. It’s also consuming more fuel on the same route.

For a 6,000nm flight, the 787-9 would consume 6.8% more fuel or 64.4t instead of 60,3t for the A330-800, both flying with an 80% cabin load factor. The 787-9 would have a 7.2% lower per seat fuel cost.

The 787-9 is larger and could perhaps not be filled consistently to the same load factor as the A330-800, at least not at first. The seat fuel costs for the two would be equal at a load factor of 74% for the 787-9 with the A330-800 at 80%. It would then transport 215 passengers compared with the A330-800’s 200 passengers.


As we wrote in our Tuesday article, the switch from Airbus’ A330-800 to Boeing’s 787-9 was made possible by Boeing aggressively going after Hawaiian’s business. The Dreamliner price was attractive and Hawaiian was let out of the present leases for the 767-300ERs ahead of time. We can also be sure Boeing took care of any introduction costs for a new type and through its services unit, it made sure maintenance costs for a fleet of 787s instead of additional A330s will not make any difference.

The driving force for Hawaiian however, not fully satisfied with the switch from A350-800 to A330-800, was future operational restrictions. The A330-800 is lower in capacity and shorter in range than the original choice, the A350-800.

The 787-9 comes much closer to the capabilities of the A350-800 than the A330-800. And the larger A330-900 doesn’t have the range required by Hawaiian for such future routes.

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