ANALYSIS: American builds Asia gateway at Dallas/Fort Worth

Washington DC
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Dallas/Fort Worth International airport (DFW) is emerging as the clear gateway to Asia-Pacific for American Airlines.

The airport will boast new nonstop daily flights to Hong Kong International and Shanghai Pudong International on the Oneworld alliance carrier from June 2014, pending regulatory approval, American announced today. This comes after it began daily flights to Seoul Incheon from DFW this past May.

“Today's news underscores our commitment to strengthen American's global network in the most important markets around the world," says Tom Horton, chairman and chief executive of Fort Worth, Texas-based American. He adds that the new service highlights “the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region” to the airline.

American's Asia-Pacific network, October 2013

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Innovata FlightMaps Analytics

American's planned Asia-Pacific network, June 2014

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Flightglobal and Great Circle Mapper

The new flights will effectively increase American’s capacity between DFW and Asia by two-thirds. It flies twice daily to Tokyo Narita in addition to the once daily Seoul flight.

The Hong Kong flights will be operated with a 310-seat Boeing 777-300ER and the Shanghai flights with a 247-seat 777-200ER, according to the airline.

“It speaks to how far the DFW hub has come in 30 years,” says Robert Mann, an industry analyst with RW Mann & Company and former airline executive who worked at American in the 1980s. He cites the date 11 June 1981 when the airline launched its hub at the airport with flights to 23 new cities.

“It has obviously matured over time,” he adds.


DFW’s evolution as American’s main gateway to Asia has not always been obvious.

Horton has acknowledged on multiple occasions this year that American needs to grow its network to Asia, which is dwarfed by those of Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, but said that the majority of that growth would be centred around Los Angeles International, where the airline has a small hub.

In addition, DFW’s location about 1,885km (1,171 miles) from the Pacific coast in the middle of the USA puts it at a geographic disadvantage to many of the primary gateways on the Pacific Ocean, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and now Seattle/Tacoma.

The success of new flights to Asia may have changed American’s thinking. Its Seoul flight is reportedly doing well only and its Oneworld partner Qantas Airways has increased frequency twice between Sydney and DFW since launching service in May 2011.

DFW has also been pushing for new service to Asia, especially greater China, for some time with airport executives travelling to and from the region multiple times to promote potential new service.

Chris Poinsatte, chief financial officer and executive vice-president of airline business and technology at DFW, told Airline Business earlier in October that China remained a focus of the airport’s network growth strategy and said that the airport had met with American, JAL and Malaysia Airlines about potential new service.

“For American to use its main US hub to go to Asia is brilliant,” says Michael Boyd, chairman of the Boyd Group International. The new Hong Kong and Shanghai flights will benefit significantly from the carrier’s Latin American feed at DFW, as well as its large domestic network at the airport, he explains.

“This is just the start,” he says, adding that he expects new nonstops to additional points in China, like Chengdu and Guangzhou, from DFW on American in the future.

Los Angeles is not out when it comes to Asia service at American. Horton says that the carrier will continue to add feed at the California gateway for its existing flights to Shanghai and Tokyo Narita and those of its Oneworld partners in 2014.

In addition, a new $82.3 million secure connector between the Tom Bradley International terminal and American’s terminal 4 is under construction at Los Angeles International. The facility will ease transfers from international to domestic flights when it opens in 2016.

Most analysts agree that Los Angeles is a poor US gateway to Asia due to its location about an hour's flight further from most Asian markets compared to either San Francisco or Seattle, and its fragmented domestic market that no one carrier dominates.


American's decision to build out its Asia network from DFW comes as Delta is doing the same from Seattle Tacoma International airport. The Atlanta-based carrier will add new nonstops from Seattle to both Hong Kong and Seoul in June 2014, which follows the addition of Shanghai and Tokyo Haneda flights earlier this year.

"Our expanding Seattle network, combined with investments in our aircraft, the airport and the community shows our commitment to become Seattle's premier international carrier," said Mike Medeiros, vice-president of Seattle at Delta, on the expansion in August.

Delta has said that it plans to reduce the percentage of its Pacific capacity that touches Japan, which was about 50% in July. Its Seattle expansion fits this strategy, though it has yet to cancel any of its flights into Asia beyond its Tokyo Narita hub.

The carrier will end flights between Seattle and Osaka Kansai in November, and between San Francisco and Tokyo Narita in March 2014.


American also announced today to employees that it will end of its flight between New York John F. Kennedy International and Tokyo Haneda International airports in December. It says that the route was unprofitable due to the poor arrival and departure slots it was given at Tokyo’s close in airport.

Mann says that the slots American had were never at “commercially viable times” and was not surprised by the decision to end the route.