"Hawaii is an important place for Southwest Airlines because so many people count on us to take them everywhere they want to go reliably and affordably".
"We anticipate fares will drop", he said. The latest version of the planemaker's best-selling jet, the 737 Max, can fly farther and is more fuel efficient than older models.
Since Southwest Airlines began to challenge the established major airlines in the 1990s, the low-cost carrier has forced its competitors to lower fares in what industry insiders call "the Southwest Effect".
"For us, it's the flawless fit for Hawaii", Watterson said.
No specific routes have been announced, but it's a safe assumption that the airline will launch its Hawaii flights from the West Coast.
Southwest Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson says the airline can't give a date for when flights will begin as it depends on when it receives the FAA certification. In addition, Southwest said it is considering nonstop flights to neighbor islands. Even if Hawaii flights start in 2018, they won't alter fleet or capacity plans for the year, the company said.
Currently, seven airlines operate in the market, but this will reduce to five before Southwest begins service.
Many more offer fights with one or more stops along the way, though.
"We don't see Southwest having success in Hawaii due to an inferior product and an already crowded marketplace", Hunter Keay, a Wolfe Research analyst, said in a note to clients this week, in which he speculated on potential service. Southwest is now operating nine MAX 8s and expects to have 14 in service by the end of the year.
Watterson said Southwest will be ready to compete for passengers flying in coach. It is also not yet known if other airports on the islands beyond Honolulu International Airport will have the Southwest service.