MIAMI — The case for access to offer non-stop flights between Los Angeles and Beijing, China is now officially closed. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has finalized its decision to award American Airlines route authority between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK).
This officially seals the DOT’s previously tentative decision to award the route to American, which was announced on Monday, November 7. Other parties were given an opportunity to file objections in the meantime. Delta Air Lines, which had also filed an application with the DOT for route access, submitted an objection, but it was not enough to sway the DOT from its original decision.
In its ruling, the DOT cited superior connectivity as an important factor in awarding the route to American over Delta: “The record demonstrates that substantial numbers of U.S. travelers could benefit from one-stop online connections over Los Angeles,” it said.
Furthermore, the DOT stated that awarding the route to American maximizes the public benefit, since the carrier does not currently have access to Beijing from a west coast hub: “The Department finds that only a selection of American would provide the convenience of first time one-stop online connections over Los Angeles and add a third U.S.-carrier competitor to the West Coast-Beijing market, thereby better promoting the corresponding benefits of inter-gateway competition.”
Unlike American, Delta already flies to Beijing from the west coast, serving the Chinese capital via its growing hub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). This negatively impacted the Atlanta-based carrier’s proposal, in the eyes of the DOT.
Also included in the final ruling is the DOT’s rejection of Delta’s request that it be allocated backup route authority in case American fails to deliver on its promises. The DOT said it found no compelling evidence to honor this request.
American now has until March 19, 2017 – within 90 days of the final order – to launch the route. The Fort Worth-based carrier has yet to announce a date for the launch, although it is fully expected to launch within the given 90 day timeframe without difficulty. The airline will operate the new route with a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, featuring 289 seats of daily capacity.
The Los Angeles-Beijing route had become hotly contested between the two carriers. American and Delta both submitted initial proposals to the DOT back in March, and had battled it out ever since to obtain the award. This is, in part, because the seven Los Angeles-Beijing weekly frequencies represent the last remaining slots to access Tier 1 and Tier 2 Chinese cities by U.S. based carriers. Increased access to China has been a focus for many U.S. carriers recently, which have seized to stake their claim in a growing Chinese market.
Some within the industry have suggested that Delta could move its Tokyo-Shanghai flights to serve Los Angeles-Beijing, if it still desires route access. It remains to be seen if Delta will ultimately make the switch.
American’s new access to Beijing will feed its mission of growing its Los Angeles hub into a transpacific gateway and its “Best in LAX” efforts. The carrier has been focused on feeding Pacific-bound traffic through its strongholds in Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW).
Just in time for the holidays, the long-awaited Los Angeles-Beijing case is finally closed. We look forward to American’s launch of new service to the Chinese capital sometime in the spring of 2017.