ANALYSIS: American fulfils warnings of small city cuts at Washington National

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American Airlines is keeping its word on service from Ronald Reagan Washington National airport, cutting service to small- and medium-size cities in line with its slot divestments.

“We, will by definition with a scarce resource, continue to serve the [communities] that are most lucrative and reduce service to the ones that are the least lucrative as we should do as business people,” said then US Airways chairman and chief executive Doug Parker on what would happen if the carrier was forced to divest slots at National airport during a US Senate hearing on 19 June 2013. “What that means is reduce service to small- and medium-size communities.”

Parker is now chief executive of the newly formed American Airlines Group, owner of American and US Airways, which announced on 15 January the very cuts he outlined to the Senate.

Only four cities – Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Montreal and San Diego – out of the 17 that will lose nonstop service to Washington National in the combined American and US Airways’ network could be considered large markets.

Augusta (Georgia), Fayetteville (North Carolina), Fort Walton Beach, Islip, Jacksonville (North Carolina), Little Rock, Myrtle Beach, Nassau, Omaha, Pensacola, Savannah and Tallahassee are the remaining markets that will lose service to National on American. All are small- and medium-size cities.

American-US Airways Washington National network post-schedule changes

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Flightglobal and Great Circle Mapper

American-US Airways Washington National network, January 2014

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Innovata FlightMaps Analytics

Most of the cuts were recent additions for US Airways. The carrier launched new service from Washington National to Augusta, Fayetteville, Fort Walton Beach, Islip, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Montreal, Omaha, Pensacola, Savannah and Tallahassee – 12 of the 17 cities now being axed – in 2012, following its slot swap deal with Delta Air Lines the year before.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based Oneworld carrier will maintain service to all 17 of the cities from its other hubs, it says.

American must divest 52 slot pairs at Washington National under an agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in exchange for antitrust approval of its merger with US Airways, which closed on 9 December 2013. However, the actual schedule reduction will only reflect 44 slot pairs as the carrier already leases eight to JetBlue Airways.

The announced schedule changes total 26 slot pairs, based on Innovata and airline schedules. The remaining 18 pairs are likely to come from frequency changes as the two carriers integrate their schedules, for example reducing duplicative service between National and Raleigh/Durham where both American and US Airways offer seven peak day flights.

The slot pair used for San Diego is the exception among these cuts. American will continue to use it, and the perimeter exemption that enables the nonstop flight to California, for a second daily nonstop to Los Angeles International airport, which is a hub for the combined carrier.

Approved by the US Congress in February 2012, the incumbent carrier exemption allows American to use a slot from its existing portfolio for service to any destination beyond Washington National’s 2,012km (1,250 mile) perimeter. Four new slot pairs with perimeter exemptions were created for non-incumbent carriers at the same time.

American has not provided details on when service on the 17 routes will end or when the second daily flight to Los Angeles will begin.

The last change made to the new American’s schedule at Washington National is that nonstop flights to Fort Myers will be reduced to seasonal from year-round service.

Air Canada flies from National to Montreal, Delta Air Lines flies to Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul and will begin Omaha flights operated by Chautauqua Airlines on 1 February, and Sun Country Airlines flies to Minneapolis-St. Paul, according to Innovata. The remaining 14 cities have no other service to Washington's close-in airport.

LAGUARDIA

New York LaGuardia is a different story. Despite having to divest 17 slot pairs under the DOJ agreement – Southwest Airlines and Virgin America acquired these in December – American is growing its network from the airport.

Flights will be added to Charlottesville, Dayton, Greensboro, Knoxville, Louisville, Little Rock, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Wilmington (North Carolina) from 1 April. Service from LaGuardia to Atlanta, Cleveland and Minneapolis-St. Paul will end the same day.

American-US Airways New York LaGuardia network, April 2014

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Flightglobal and Great Circle Mapper

American-US Airways New York LaGuardia network, January 2014

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Innovata FlightMaps Analytics

American has yet to disclose the frequency and aircraft type for the new routes. However, Louisville is expected to receive three peak day flights and Richmond four peak day flights on regional jet aircraft.

“The business community in our region is always excited about having additional access to major business markets,” says Tom Tyra, director of air service development at Louisville International airport. “We’re excited to see some additional access to New York.”

The airport expects to receive details of the frequency and aircraft type when tickets go on sale on 26 January, he adds.

The routes also mark a return of some of the nonstops that were dropped after the slot swap. US Airways flew from LaGaurdia to Charlottesville, Dayton, Greensboro, Louisville, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Wilmington prior to the deal with Delta.

Only Knoxville and Little Rock are entirely new cities to the combined American and US Airways network from New York.

Ending service to the three markets named and “changes to the schedule made possible by the combined network” allow American to grow its network from LaGuardia, it says in a statement.

The three discontinued routes use 14 slot pairs at LaGuardia, based on American’s online schedule. Other possible schedule changes include reducing duplicative service, for example between LaGuardia and Charlotte where American operates four peak day flights and US Airways 13 flights.

American also serves Cleveland and Norfolk from New York JFK International airport. It is unclear whether it will continue these flights.

Charles Braden, director of market development at Norfolk International airport, says they expect no change to the JFK flight, which connects to American's international network. The airport is "very excited" about the new service to LaGuardia, he adds.

Delta flies to all of the cities that American plans to add from LaGuardia except for Little Rock, which has no nonstop service to the airport, Innovata shows. United Airlines also serves Dayton, Greensboro, Knoxville, Louisville, Norfolk and Richmond from Newark Liberty International airport.

American declines to comment on any questions regarding the Washington National and New York LaGuardia schedule changes.