San Diego International airport had a big year in 2012. It landed its first nonstop to Asia on Japan Airlines (JAL), made possible by the Boeing 787, and began to look like a new focus city for Alaska Airlines.
"We had the largest Asian community in the USA without a direct service to Asia," says Hampton Brown, director of air services development at the airport. "On paper, it looked like Orlando was the largest market without service but, when you add the drive market from San Diego, [Asia was] significantly larger than Orlando."
JAL began service four-times weekly between San Diego and Tokyo on 2 December 2012, which Brown asserts was made "economically viable" by the 787. Operations by large aircraft are limited due to the fact that the airport lies in a bowl between two hills and is surrounded by the city and water on all sides.
San Diego Airport
Brown says that the airport considers Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo as the only economically viable routes across the Pacific with destinations further afield in Asia requiring "another technical leap in manufacturing".
Orlando also landed service from San Diego last year. Alaska launched a flight on the route on 11 October 2012 and has since announced new services to Boston from 29 March and Lihue from 7 June. The new routes have prompted Wall Street analyst speculation - which management denies - on whether the airline is turning the airport into a focus city.
Alaska Airlines routes from San Diego, January 2013
Innovata FlightMaps Analytics
"When you look at its network and its growth planes coming down the line, the opportunities that it has out of its core airports - Seattle and Portland - are limited at this point," says Brown. "There are opportunities in other places, like San Diego, and we are happy to help them realise growth possibilities to strengthen the overall network of Alaska."
Southwest Airlines remains king in San Diego despite the new routes. It carried more than 39% of enplaned passengers during the year ending 30 September 2012, according to the US Department of Transportation.