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Trade clashes would have 'muted' effects on leisure travel, says airline CEO

  • Growing trade tensions may affect the airline industry, but the impacts would likely be limited, Peter Ingram, the president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines told CNBC.
  • "Leisure travel has been continuing to grow, and I think it has proven — through economic downturns in fact — to be more resilient than business travel, where corporations are able, in time of need, to really cut things down," he said.

Growing trade tensions spurred by U.S. President Donald Trump's increasingly confrontational trade policies may affect the airline industry, but the CEO of Hawaii's largest airline said the impact would likely be limited.

"We worry from the standpoint that anything that's bad for the global economy is bad for the airline industry," Peter Ingram, the president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines told CNBC.

"I would say that from our standpoint, it's a little bit more muted," he added.

Ingram attributed his statement to the fact the company is "based in Honolulu," that it is a "leisure-focused airline," and that many people view family vacations as a "basic right in the world today."

"Leisure travel has been continuing to grow, and I think it has proven — through economic downturns in fact — to be more resilient than business travel, where corporations are able, in time of need, to really cut things down," Ingram said.

A Hawaiian Airbus A330 at the Los angeles International Airport on July 30, 2017.
FG | Bauer-Griffin | Getty Images
A Hawaiian Airbus A330 at the Los angeles International Airport on July 30, 2017.

Technology has made traveling more specialized, and airlines need to develop to cater to a wider range of customers, the CEO of the ninth largest commercial airline in the U.S. said.

"We have moved from being an industry that primarily conducts its business through travel agents and traditional green screen GDS [Global Distribution System] to a more web-based environment, and a much more specialized selling environment," he explained, referring to a system for booking airline tickets.

The CEO said he expects carriers like Hawaiian Airlines to continue developing different products to serve the growing range of clients with "different needs."

One of the airline's methods is through diversifying its fleet to potentially expand operations beyond current markets. That's exemplified by Hawaiian Airlines' recent agreement to purchase 10 new Boeing 787-9 airplanes.

"You've seen us grow over the last seven or eight years, since 2010, when we began renewing our fleet with the [Airbus] A330-200," Ingram said, pointing out that the airline has since added services throughout the Asia Pacific region and growing to where it is now "the second-largest operator" in the market for flights between Japan and Hawaii.

The airline's purchase of the new Boeing aircraft also fueled rumors about non-stop flights to Europe, but the CEO was quick to caution that talks about expanding in specific markets might be premature, as it would be another three years before the aircraft are delivered.

"It's way too early to be talking about specific markets that this is going to open up. But the 787-9 is an aircraft that has that sort of range," Ingram said, adding that the company would have to look at market conditions to decide on any new flight routes.